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December 30, 2003
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Training Tool Puts Cops Under The Gun

By Christine Moran

WARWICK – August 26, 2003 – It is made to look like a video game, but the scenarios being played out on the screen simulate real-life situations for police officers that are anything but games.

It felt real enough for Sgt. Dean Logan with the Doylestown Township Police Department Monday when he stepped into the 30- by 12-foot room at Middle Bucks Institute of Technology, which is the new home of a $100,000 simulator.

Logan stood in the dark with his gun at his side. A radio dispatcher - really an instructor sitting behind a glass window in back of Logan - called in a report of a suspected car thief in the area. With the story set, the screen turned on.

In a matter of moments, Logan was face to face with the suspected car thief. The sergeant told the suspect, who was walking away, to stop and put his hands up. The suspect ignored the sergeant''s commands and, instead, turned around and shot at him. Logan drew his weapon and fired back, hitting the man in the head, chest, waist and arm.

"It definitely felt real," Logan said after the lights turned on.

Logan was firing a real handgun that had been modified. A laser was inserted in the barrel so it couldn''t fire real bullets. Other weapons and equipment modified to work with the simulator include a shotgun, a rifle, pepper spray and a flashlight.

The situation could have played out any number of ways. The instructor sitting behind the glass window controls the movements of the suspect by way of a computer. By a press of a button, the instructor can turn a non-aggressive suspect into an aggressive one with a weapon.

One thing that separates this piece of equipment from other simulators is that it shoots back. Every time the suspect pulled the trigger on his gun, a machine shot a plastic ball the size of a marble at Logan, who took cover behind a stack of boxes.

"This is as real as it gets," said Larry Glick with the National Tactical Officers Association in Buckingham, which has trained more than 27,000 police officers since 1997.

The simulator was donated to the NTOA by Advanced Interactive Systems, a Seattle, company that makes reality-based training equipment for law enforcement, military, government, security and aviation agencies.

While firearm simulators have been around for decades, as with anything, the technology keeps evolving. Greg Hoover, with Advanced Interactive Systems, said he doesn''t know of any equipment in the Philadelphia area matching the capabilities of the simulator at Middle Bucks.

The NTOA didn''t have room for it so it asked the vocational technical school, which offers a public safety program for students interested in law enforcement, fire fighting and emergency medical service, if it would be interested in housing it.

A room was built at the tech school this past summer for the simulator, which will be used by the NTOA as well as Bucks County law enforcement agencies at no charge.

The equipment can simulate more than 500 scenarios. Not all entail using force. Some teach negotiation and communication skills as well as report writing, which is the part of the program Fala said the students would learn from.

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