Shooting simulator prepares police for real world scenarios

By Paul Archipley | Nov 21, 2013
Photo by: Paul Archipley Reporter Larry Vogel takes aim at a criminal hiding behind a hostage during a simulated confrontation at the Edmonds Police Department. Do you take the shot? A pair of amateurs found out.

If Larry Vogel and I were to be compared to fictional characters in our gunfight last week, Vogel would be Matt Dillon who, fans of “Gunsmoke” may recall, was always slow to the draw but didn’t miss.

I’d compare myself more to Hipshot Percussion, the loner in the Rick O’Shay comic strip who avoided shooting if he could, but was a quick draw when he couldn’t.

The main difference between Hipshot and me, I must admit, was that he had a dead eye, while I hail from the “can’t hit the broadside of a barn” family of gunmen.

Vogel, a reporter with My Edmonds News, and I didn’t really shoot it out in an O.K. Corral kind of gunfight.

Rather, Sgt. Bob Barker of the Edmonds Police Department gave us a training session at the department’s virtual shooting range, located in the bowels of the police station.

Called a Professional Range Instruction Simulator, or PRISim, the virtual reality simulator gives police officers an opportunity to keep their shooting skills finely honed.

Using real pistols – in this case Glock 40-caliber Smith & Wessons – that have been converted to shoot lasers, officers have “a way to keep fresh without wasting bullets,” Barker said.

Fortunately, they rarely need to use those skills on the job. Barker, an Edmonds officer for 28 years, said he came close to pulling the trigger just one time.

“I consider myself lucky,” he said.

In fact, he could recall only 4-5 officer shooting incidents in the south county region during his career.

Nevertheless, as cases like Sandy Hook remind us, the need for those skills is ever present.

“We train for the worst, but hope for the best,” Barker said.

The system, installed when the new station was built in 2000, is similar to the computer games that people play today. A scenario is projected onto a large screen and, depending on an officer’s reactions to various situations, everyone from the good to the bad to the ugly may get “shot.”

In the case of Vogel and me, it often was ugly. Neither of us had any experience with handguns, and it showed.

When Chief Al Compaan invited us to try our hands with the simulator, we of course thought it would be loads of fun, playing “shoot ‘em up” without fear.

Once the simulations began, however, we experienced a taste of real world challenges officers face on the job.

Adrenaline pumping and hands sweating, I found myself firing off many rounds, but often hitting only that barn.

The system includes an opportunity to be shot at, too.

There is a gun barrel sticking out of the ceiling above the screen that can fire plastic marbles at the shooter. Barker showed us the numerous dimples pockmarking the drywall behind us.

He said they sting, further inducement to remember your training about taking cover.

We declined Barker’s offer for that experience. Bad shots, yes. Stupid? Not so much.

The police have invited others to experience the “real world” scenarios, such as the Citizen’s Police Academy and a former city councilmember who often had been critical of the department.

“We get a lot of questions,” Barker explained. “Why don’t you just shoot them in the hands, in the legs?”

I discovered when the simulation was underway, and someone was “shooting” at me, I wasn’t being too picky about where I aimed. Thus, perhaps, that barn…

“You go for the best shot possible,” Barker said.

Of course, no shot is the best option.

But every situation is unique, and police often don’t have much time to think about their options; that’s why regular training is so important.

“You may have just a split second,” Barker said. “Then a court and jury will take a year or two to decide if you made the right decision.”

It goes with the territory.

Vogel, by the way, may try to spin a different yarn, but Hipshot plugged him good, barn and all.

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