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October 22, 2007
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Tech updates aid firearm simulators in South Fla.

By Matt Presser
South Florida Sun-Sentinel 
 
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Firearms simulators used by police departments used to be little more than overrated video games.

Now, they're realistic law-enforcement training tools used to assist officers around the country, according to Eric Aronowitz, training officer for the Delray Beach Police Department.

The portable simulators use digital videos with interactive scenarios, some of which come with the system, or can be created by the department. Officers talk to the characters on the projector screen and must react accordingly, either by using a laser weapon or by talking it out.

"It's about as realistic as you could get," Aronowitz said. "It allows us to put real-life stress on an officer in a situation that he's reacting to. It keeps him on top of the game."

The Boynton Beach Police Department keeps its firearms simulator in a closet because of lack of space, training Sgt. Sedrick Aiken said.

The department's model is at least 7 or 8 years old, and officials may consider budgeting for a new one, once the new police station is built in the next few years, Aiken said.

"We were running out of space, and the facilities needed to utilize the machine are being used," he said.

Traditionally, the simulator has been helpful with officers' interpersonal skills and reaction times, Aiken said.

"It's not a shoot-em-up video game; it is actually a decision-making machine," he said.

The Delray Beach department is set to receive a simulator next year, according to the city's capital improvements schedule. The cost: $146,475 -- and worth every penny, Aronowitz said.

"You're reducing your cost, reducing your liability, [and] you're letting your officers be better trained in a wide variety of situations," he said.

The department wanted a simulator for about 10 or 12 years, but it couldn't find one with the features it wanted at a reasonable price, Aronowitz said.

"They weren't up to the level to where they are today," he said. "They have now come out with technological, more advanced units."

The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office purchased its firearms simulator eight to 10 years ago, said Lt. Jeff Swank, executive officer and section commander of its training division.

Officials want to buy a new one in their next budget year, because the old one has become outdated, Swank said.

"It's like any other computer, because technology changes as quickly as you go," he said.

While the simulators are helpful in measuring officers' decision-making skills and their ability to act under pressure, they are often too expensive for small agencies, Swank said.

The simulators have an advantage over traditional training methods that use actors, because a police department can control the time of day and the weather and can program a gun to misfire and other equipment malfunctions officers would need to respond to, Aronowitz said.

"I could call in an officer off the road, do quick training with him and not have to worry about location, travel time, or have to wait for weather conditions," he said. "Having an officer in training with the closest thing to actual weather conditions is a plus."

The simulator would be used to train not just Delray Beach's officers, but also those in small, neighboring municipalities and participants in citizen's police academies, which give residents an inside look at how the Police Department works.

"It's a one-time purchase, but when you think about it in the long run, it saves a lot in ammunition costs, it saves a lot in training costs, and it saves time," Aronowitz said. "It gives them the most up-to-date training that's out there."
 
Copyright 2007 The South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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