District attorney invests in new equipment to train police in use of deadly force

Published: Thursday, Nov. 7 2013 6:45 p.m. MST

Range Master Nicholas Roberts, left, and Unified Police deputy chief Shane Hudson demonstrate a situation in the department's new five-screen judgmental use-of-force training simulator at the sheriffs gun range in Parleys Canyon on Thursday, Nov. 7, 2013.

Matt Gade, Deseret News

PARLEYS CANYON — The sounds of gunfire, sirens and people screaming are loud, and they sound real.

The gun the officer holds feels real. The pain that shoots through his body is real. The scenario the officer is looking at — and even the scenario happening behind him that he can't see — look real.

And the officers' emotions are real.

"Oh, I can guarantee my pulse rate is up," Unified police rangemaster Nick Roberts said after completing an intense scenario involving a mass shooting inside a school.

"I'm shaking," concurred Unified Assistant Chief Shane Hudson.

But the use of deadly force scenario the officers were put through Thursday was not real. It was just a training exercise.

In this case, it was what many law enforcers and the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office consider the most lifelike training exercise available on the market today.

"This is the best available technology in the country. There isn't a better system in the country than this," District Attorney Sim Gill said.

On Thursday, Gill and the Unified Police Department unveiled the new VirTra V-300 LE simulator.

In the past, officers training in shoot/don't shoot scenarios typically were put on a range with their targets straight ahead of them. The VirTra machine involves screens that encircle an officer and project life-size images of people and places from all angles.

"(The old system) was good technology for its time, but now we have better technology. It takes them through a real-world scenario," Gill said. "This will change the paradigm of how we train officers for the next 15 to 20 years."

Gill said when he made a committment to public safety three years ago, his plan included making sure law enforcement had the best training available. He emphasized Thursday that he wasn't just giving law enforcers "lip service."

"The commitment was officer safety first, and public safety first," Gill said. "The better informed (officers) are, the better trained they are, then they are going to make better decisions."

In order to sharpen an officer's risk assessment skills, Gill said officers need "real-world application" in their training.

The district attorney's office used $500,000 in money and assets seized during law enforcement operations, such as drug busts, and purchased the $250,000 VirTra equipment. The remaining $250,000 was matched by the Salt Lake County Council and used to build a second story onto the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office gun range headquarters in Parleys Canyon. The total cost for the machine and building construction was about $750,000.

"That is an investment for every officer whose life is saved, every civilian whose life is saved. We will get that back and pay for it tenfold," Gill said.

During a demonstration Thursday, members of the Unified Police Department programmed the machine to go through various scenarios, including a woman being robbed at knife point at an ATM, a domestic violence call involving a gun, a mentally ill person harassing people at a park, and a school shooting.

The weapons used during the scenario are real but modified so they don't shoot bullets, while still having the same weight and feel of a regular police-issued service weapon. To make the scenario even more real, officers clip brick-size devices to their belts that will zap them with an electrical shock, similar to a Taser but with less intensity, if they are "shot" during a training exercise.

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