How simulator technology improves police cadet training

High-tech simulators allow for the interleaving of skills while providing stress inoculation


Law enforcement has been training recruits incorrectly for a long time.

Most police academies use the “block and silo” method (blocks of specific topics taught in isolation from other instruction). For example, we teach firearms for two weeks right after the legal block. But we don’t combine those skills to create interleaving (or “hi-fidelity”) training.

But when you do interleave training, students perform better long term after they learn a particular, isolated skill and then immediately combine it with a previously learned skill. While difficult to accomplish in peace officer academies, it is a much more effective way of ensuring that learning occurs and skills are maintained.  

Often these blocks are combined and tested in a final practical exercise in which all the skills are put together. Still, it’s common to find that cadets have forgotten much of what they learned in the previous weeks and are unable to meld those skills.

According to the Force Science Institute, most cadets only make 5-7 decisions under stress before graduation. That’s not enough. Young people today are less accustomed to real-world stress than before. Many of our cadets have never been in a physical altercation when they get hired. It’s our job as trainers and administrators to get them prepared for the challenges they will face on the street. One tool that can help accomplish this mission is a high-tech simulator that allows for the interleaving of skills while providing stress inoculation.

We are fortunate at the Enid Police Department in Oklahoma to be able to maintain a fund balance. For departments that don’t have that privilege, they have to spend all the money in their budget, or they get less the next fiscal year. You can imagine the waste that type of system creates. Since we are allowed to maintain a fund balance, if we don’t spend our entire budget, we can roll those monies over to the next budget. Essentially, we can save up money.

Our previous chief and his administrative captain (who is the current chief) had designs on purchasing land and building a state-of-the-art training facility with a VirTra 300 simulator through saving money over several years. Their vision and fiscal responsibility have now made that possible.

We’re currently conducting our fourth academy and the comments on the VirTra system and how we are implementing it into the basic training are drawing rave reviews from the cadets. Since getting the system, we’ve had several visits from political leaders and members of the media. We hope this coverage will encourage other agencies to look into simulation training. This recent CNN report highlights Enid PD's use of the VirTra simulator:  

V-Author

An optional purchase for departments interested in the VirTra system is V-Author. This system allows the department to take local video and photographs from their local jurisdiction, add the software’s characters and create simulations at, for example, your own high school, city hall, courthouse, or anywhere else. Think about how incredibly helpful that would be to your officers. VirTra provides training for the use of the software.  

V-Victa

Another great feature of the VirTra system is V-Victa: Virtual Interactive Coursework Training Academy. This software delivers the only nationally certified simulation curriculum for law enforcement training. Each set of curriculum includes scenarios, relevant case law and recent after-action reports to provide all possible training points instructors need to incorporate into their training sessions.

Having these curriculums pre-loaded saves an instructor’s time and lets a department hit the ground running with their training. V-Victa includes 60 hours of certified course work that can easily be broken down into muster training in 15–30-minute intervals. The newly released curriculum is listed below:

  • Active Threat/Active Killer
  • Autism Awareness
  • Behavior Analysis Threat Response
  • Contact and Cover Concepts
  • De-Escalation
  • Dog Encounters
  • High-Risk Vehicle Stops
  • Human Factors in Force Encounters
  • Injured Officer Handgun Manipulation
  • Mental Illness: A Practical Approach
  • Red Dot Optic Training and Sustainment
  • Taser Targeting
  • Tourniquet Application under Threat 1 & 2
  • Weapon Transitions

Our approach

We use the VirTra simulator as an enhancement of and in addition to our training, not as a replacement for anything we’re doing. For example, training Sergeant Kevin Bezdicek built a simulated qualification course of fire so officers can work on the fundamentals of pistol shooting without the recoil, muzzle blast and the expense of ammunition. We’ve found this wildly successful with students who struggle to qualify annually.

De-escalation

I am a certified Force Science Institute De-Escalation Instructor and Force Science Analyst. Since we’ve received the VirTra simulator, the last two hours of the de-escalation class are now conducted in the simulator putting the classroom knowledge to the test. We are incorporating the simulator into our defensive tactics, TASER and OC (pepper spray) blocks as well. As each block nears completion, we will be adding components of earlier blocks to help cement that interleaving of skills.

The greatest feature

We believe the greatest benefit of our new VirTra simulator is that we can share it with smaller agencies who would not otherwise have access to this level of training. We are also working through the logistics it would take to allow members of the public to receive training on the VirTra. We believe this will strengthen our relationship with an already supportive public and demonstrate where their tax money was spent, the importance of this type of training and how it will make our community safer.  

NEXT: How to buy training simulators (eBook)

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