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Firearms simulator tests cops' judgment

By Tim Yovich

Sunday, April 13, 2003

'Bullets' are even fired back at the officers on the range.
& lt;a & gt;By TIM YOVICH & lt;/a & gt;
HUBBARD -- Police officers from three departments have just received a good dose of judgment training -- so realistic that one officer's hands turned cold and clammy.
Members of the Hubbard, Brookfield and Liberty police departments took their turns last week going through FATS, the Firearms Training Simulator.
The simulator is not designed to judge firearms accuracy. It presents the appropriate levels of force required in various situations as the point of the instruction, explained Detective Robert Altier and Sgt. James Taafe, both of the Hubbard department and FATS instructors.
It's enough to make you break into a sweat.
Essentially, the computer-generated simulator is a large screen in which life-size actors stage various situations -- everything from a domestic argument to a beating in an alley.
Officers are armed with electronic guns ranging from a 9mm semiautomatic pistol to a rifle to a shotgun.
While the scenario unfolds on the screen, the officer must make decisions in giving voice commands, radioing for backup, using pepper spray, drawing a weapon and, at last, deciding if deadly force should be used.
Realistic touches
Those using the simulator even feel the recoil of the firearm produced by pressurized tanks of air.
If they're fired at, they're sometimes struck with small rubber "bullets."
An instructor uses a night scope in the darkened room to determine if an officer has a finger on the trigger when it shouldn't be.
Officers have to justify the actions they took to make sure the level of force falls within department policy.
"It's poor judgment if you can't explain your actions," Taafe said.
For example, a large male officer may decide to wrestle an attacker to the ground rather than opening fire. A smaller female officer, Altier said, may decide that she's justified in firing because her life is in danger.
For those who use continuous poor judgment, Altier explained, the result could be remedial in-service training or being sent back to the police academy.
"Fortunately, we haven't had that problem," Altier said, adding he and Taafe know the strengths and weaknesses of the officers.
The departments rent the equipment from Galeleo Training Systems of Vermilion for $3,000 a week. The cost is shared by the three departments.
This is the fifth year Hubbard police have rented the equipment.
Officers could use FATS equipment offered by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation and FBI in Boardman, Altier said, but they would have to be paid overtime because of scheduling conflicts and reimbursed for mileage.
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