Simulator helps train Tennessee officers with weapon scenarios

(FORT OGLETHORPE, Tenn.) -- That was the question that faced Fort Oglethorpe Detective Dave Scroggins Wednesday as he encountered one life-and-death situation after another.

With gun raised, he entered a bedroom where an enraged man was beating a woman almost to death, walked into a dark alley to confront a man holding a knife to a baby, and faced off with a driver who had just hit the officer's partner, who lay motionless on the ground.

And it all happened within the confines of a classroom at the Fort Oglethorpe Police Department.

Detective Scroggins was demonstrating the department's new $30,000 Firearm Training Simulator, or FATS. By presenting a number of scenarios that an officer might encounter, the simulator provides training in what is known as "judgmental use of force," now required in states across the country.

Police Chief David Wyrick said he is glad the City Council provided the funding for the simulator, and thinks it will be well worth the cost.

"This is an excellent way to train our officers," he said. "If it saves one life, it's paid for itself over and over."

FATS is a computer program that projects a scenario with real-life actors onto a 10-by-10-foot screen, said Deputy Police Chief Johnnie "Red" Smith. The officer in training stands in front of the screen and interacts with the events portrayed, commanding the suspects and firing a laser gun at perpetrators when necessary.

Another officer sits at the computer and can change the events of the scenario in response to the trainee's actions. Scenes can then be replayed and freeze-framed to let trainees know how they did.

"It's as close to reality as you can get without actually shooting someone," Deputy Chief Smith said. "It gives some idea of what we encounter every day."

Simulations range from passive to very aggressive and can get the adrenaline going much as in real life, Mr. Smith said. It's important for officers to know how to react under pressure. "We've got a split second," he said, "while lawyers have months, years to say how terrible we are."

The FATS is the newest simulator of its type on the market and will help lower the department's liability, Mr. Smith said. "We're the only one in North Georgia that has it," he said.

Capt. Doug Howell, in charge of training, said the simulator will be available for use by departments around the area. A minimal fee would help the department recoup some of its expenses. Such training has been mandatory in the state for about three years. "We've trained every agency in North Georgia," he said.

Fort Oglethorpe City Councilman Jim Hall said the simulator offers nine different scenarios, each with 10 possible variations. The department has had the equipment for about a year, but did not have the space available to set it up until last week.

"It's an expensive piece of equipment, but it's worth it," he said. "These fellas put their lives on the line and this is a preparedness thing that I am 100 percent for."

(iSyndicate; Chattanooga Times / Chattanooga Free Press; Oct. 26, 2000). Terms and Conditions: Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.

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