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New Training Simulator Helps Minn. Police Set Sights on Increased Safety

MANKATO, Minn. - The first time the police officer confronted the burglary suspect, he busted the guy cleanly:

"Police officer! Don''t move! Turn around! Hands out of your pockets! Interlace your fingers! Down on your knees!"

The second time, the officer neglected to ask the burglar to turn away from him when he gave the order to "get your hands out of your pockets."

The burglar pulled out a handgun and shot the officer at close range.

The encounter wasn''t as lethal as it appeared. The burglar was a life-size video image and the officer''s Glock was firing laser pulses.

The officer wasn''t even a police officer, but a law-enforcement training instructor showing off a new high-tech video training simulator at Minnesota State University, Mankato, on Thursday.

"If officers do things the right way, they''ll avoid shooting suspects," said Todd Brown, the instructor. "We prefer they make their mistakes here, in a training environment."

Brown works for IES Interactive Training, a Colorado firm that has donated the $45,000 simulator to the university''s Force Science Research Center, which studies law enforcement officers'' use of deadly force against criminal suspects.

Despite the fact that he has investigated 900 officer-involved shootings, "there''s a huge hole in our knowledge and understanding," said Bill Lewinski, the center''s executive director. "This will help us get inside officers'' heads. We''re going to be doing some cool research."

After two days of working on the simulator, Mankato police detective Jeremy Clifton called it "a fantastic system."

"I can create my own scenarios, in environments my guys are familiar with and show them on screen exactly what they''re doing," he said.

The company hopes to market the simulator to as many of the nation''s law enforcement agencies as possible, said vice president Joe Mason. "Traditionally, simulators have been limited to ''shoot-don''t shoot'' situations. This technology carries it so much farther out."

How it works

Simulator operators videotape several versions of common law enforcement situations, such as burglaries or traffic stops. After those are loaded into a computer, the operator follows the lead of a trainee.

It resembles a life-size "shooter" video game, but one that responds directly to a trainee''s commands.

"If we get a better understanding why unintended discharges happen, I hope we can make both law enforcement and society safer," Lewinski said.

Trainees also can be videotaped as they use the simulator, and their performance can be played back to show them what they did wrong -- or right.

Another scenario prepared by the company is called "an active shooting in progress," and it bears a grisly resemblance to the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado six years ago.

The trainee wends his way along hallways and classrooms strewn with teenagers'' bodies and encounters a shooter in a school cafeteria.

Even as the shooter drops his semi-automatic rifle, he pulls a handgun out of his belt and begins firing.

The first time, instructor Brown failed to shoot the suspect in time and ended up "dying." The second time, he hit the suspect repeatedly, but failed again to stop him because his laser shots merely hit the suspect''s bulletproof vest.

"I needed to stop the threat and failed," he said.

Brown paused and reflected on his work: "We''re trying to make everybody safer. But this is so much fun, I can''t believe they pay me to do this for a living."

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