By Trevor Busch
Taber Police Service officers may soon get a chance to train on a state-of-the-art virtual reality tactical simulator located in Havre, Mont.
During the delivery of Chief Graham Abela’s report to the Taber Municipal Police Commission at their Oct. 13 regular meeting, Abela related his recent experience with the simulator and a resulting offer to allow Taber personnel to participate.
“As you know, I sit as an invited guest to the joint management team for the international border enforcement team, and we held our meeting in Havre, Montana recently. The chief of the Havre Border Sector customs unit in the United States invited us to participate in a simulation shooting training drill.”
Known as the VirTra 300, the top-of-the-line simulator allows for 300 degree wrap-around tactical scenarios where police can train for difficult real-world situations, including active shooters, maintaining situational awareness during extreme stress and enhancing other skills, such as officer presence, verbal skills, less lethal force options and use of deadly force assessments.
“It’s interesting, there’s only 10 of these units that exist in the United States, and Havre has one,” said Abela. “As a result, they have a large geographic area with low law enforcement presence. The simulator is open for use, and he actually invited us to use it, and made arrangements with our chief use of force trainer, Senior Constable Johnson, to liaise with the chief there to arrange for our members to go down there and do that.”
Abela was involved in a simulated movie theatre scenario, bringing to mind recent deadly shooting incidents in movie theatres in Nashville, Tenn. and Lafayette, La. in 2015, and the 2012 mass shooting in Aurora, Colo. that left 12 dead.
“It’s an excellent simulator, used for rapid deployment training when we’re going to deal with individuals that are armed,” said Abela. “The simulation they put me through was an armed intruder to a movie theatre complex, and I, as a responding officer, had to deal with the threats that came at me. It replays it backwards to you, and you can see what happens. As well, it records it, so you can actually see where you shoot. It’s just fabulous training, it’s worth a whole heck of a lot of money, and it’s in Havre and they’re going to allow us to use it for free at no cost. So just the travel down there, and participation.”
Commission chair Ken Holst related his own experiences with tactical simulators two decades ago.
“It’s one of these ones where it’s a large screen, and your weapon is tied into the computer system — I did this 20 years ago and it was amazing, I can only imagine the technology now — I believe they can even change the technology to shoot, no shoot on the fly.”
Abela noted the variables in the simulation can shift rapidly, and are reactive to a participant’s inputs as collated by the simulation operator.
“There’s a trainer behind you that changes variables, depending on how you talk to the individual, if you de-escalate, they’ll de-escalate the situation, if you don’t, they’ll escalate it. It’s 320 (degrees), so there’s five screens, so there’s only a little gap behind you that doesn’t have a screen.”
Commission representative Chris Bernhardt questioned police chief Abela about his performance in the simulation.
“I did well until the last scenario, I should have taken the guy out, but I didn’t. I did really well in the theatre, but then when I got outside the guy had a firearm beside him. He was not addressing me with the firearm, but he had just killed three people in the mall, I should have put two and two together, but your instinct is to talk him down. He turned around and shot me.”
Those envisioning the simulation to be closely comparable with a first-person shooter video game experience should be prepared for a shocking revelation, according to Abela.
“You get this little thing that goes on your back pocket, by your bum. It’s like a little Taser. So if they shoot, and the trainer believes that they got you, it goes off and it tases you in the bum while you’re doing the process. So you get a little bit of instant reward if you mess up.”