By CHANSE WATSON
OSBURN — It doesn’t matter what job you have, it’s always a good idea to be ready for anything it might throw at you. From teachers and lawyers to miners and loggers, there’s always the possibility of encountering an unknown problem or situation. Those who hold positions in law enforcement are also not exceptions to this rule.
While much of a deputy or officer’s day can be taken up by patrolling or performing another routine task, there is always a chance that a serious or life threatening event can occur.
If that happens, the local agencies within Shoshone County hope to have their staff ready for any eventuality with the help of a new firearm simulator.
Picked up in August 2018, the new simulator is the product of a combined effort between the Osburn Police Department, Shoshone County Sheriff’s Office and the Kellogg Police Department.
“The system was purchased with drug seizure/asset forfeiture funds through the Shoshone County Drug Task Force,” said OPD Chief Darell Braaten. “It was not taxpayer dollars that bought this.”
Braaten, along with Sheriff Mike Gunderson and KPD Chief Dave Wuolle, started exploring the possibility of acquiring the system in early 2018 to not only diversify their training regimen, but also to cut down on expenses.
The simulator is not meant to replace live fire exercises, but instead is meant to add an element of realism that can’t be duplicated shooting at paper targets. It also doesn’t hurt that laser gunshots are much cheaper than live ammunition.
“It’s mainly about having more hands-on scenario-based training,” Chief Braaten said, “but it also allows us to conduct firearms training at a reduced cost.”
The simulator itself requires some unique equipment to track shots on top of the use of a large screen, a computer, a projector and the laser firing weapons. The training weapons that can be used include handguns, rifles, shotguns, tasers, OC spray, and also accounts for different types of ammo used in each, such as bean bags or rubber rounds.
The simulation’s user can utilize any of these training weapons in a wide variety of scenarios that are projected onto the screen.
“Currently, we have about 800 different scenarios that cover everything including general contact, traffic stops, building searches, burglaries, robberies, shooting incidents and drug deals. It’s almost unlimited,” Braaten said.
This is not simply a buck hunter game that you would find at a local watering hole though.
The company that created the simulator also has a production studio, so all the scenarios provided are acted out by real people; not animated characters.
The simulator can also react to choices made by the user in each situation.
For example, the News-Press was present for a demonstration of two separate high pressure scenarios — the first being a domestic violence incident between two males and the second being a tense stand-off at a hospital with an irate individual wanting to take their family member home.
While both situations can end in a shooting, the simulation administrator can also run alternative versions that require non lethal force or practicing restraint.
The first run of the domestic violence situation ended with the simulation user firing on one of the individuals who was beating their significant other with a blunt object. The second run also ended with gunfire, but only after the aggressive male (different one from the previous run) drew a gun on the user.
In the hospital situation, the first run ended with a shooting when the suspect attempted to shoot the user after not being allowed to take their family member out of the hospital. The second run plays out much like the first, but concludes with the suspect backing down after palming the outline of his firearm.
At the end of each scenario, the administrator has the ability to show the user a plethora of information about how they did such as shot placement, probable cause for force and legal precedent for their actions. A replay function also allows the administrator to ask questions and have the user explain their actions (regardless of outcome); just like they would have to do following an incident, such as the one they did.
“Part of our training, with or without this system, we’ve always used role modeling as part of our field training. This machine takes it to that next level,” Sheriff Gunderson said. “Instead of just role modeling it, ‘OK you’re responding to a burglary at the Osburn 76 station,’ we can actually put them in a situation where they are at a robbery at a gas station.”
To replicate this type of training without the simulator, local agencies would have to either drive to another simulator (closest being in Coeur d’Alene) or organize a live drill — which requires a massive amount of manpower, time and resources.
Each scenario (and variant of those scenarios) are designed to keep the user on their toes and familiarize them with how a situation can play out. This isn’t too hard to do considering the simulator currently has hundreds of scenarios already downloaded and even more are added monthly. There is even the possibility of the simulator’s production team coming to the area and filming personalized situations.
“The idea is to make it feel like a real incident is taking place instead of our typical firearms training … where we are shooting at a piece of paper,” Braaten said.
After getting to know the system for some time now, Gunderson and Chief Wuolle are happy to see the system added to their arsenal of training tools.
“It’s great that we were able to get the money together for something that will benefit all of the agencies,” Gunderson said.
“Especially with the increase in officer-involved shootings around the nation, I think this is a must have,” Wuolle added. “That way we are training for what we could face any day.”