Officers train in virtual simulator to test situational skills

By Brenda Flanagan

It’s a virtual training simulator where officers can test their reflexes and decision making skills in hundreds of shoot/no shoot scenarios. And with accidental timing, Monmouth County debuted this new program only hours after gunfire erupted just outside Washington D.C. where a gunman apparently hit two Capitol police officers before he was shot.

“As we sit here today, we think about our capitol police officers this morning during an active shooter scenario down in Washington,” said Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden.

“Our officers unfortunately may be called upon to respond in situations like this, and this simulator is what’s going to prepare them as best as possible — the most effective, as close to real time as possible,” said Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni.

“It allows our officers to be able to move around the stage, to be able to be put into a scenario with one officer, two, three, four,” officer Wesley Mayo from the Monmouth County Police Academy said.

The $250,000 simulator immerses participants in a panoramic scene of incidents ranging from abducted baby calls to noise violation complaints and more. With a simple click, the operator can escalate simulated confrontations prompting officers to deploy guns or mace. Or, an argument can end in surrender.

“It makes you think about your surroundings. It opens up your peripheral vision, gets your adrenaline pumping, because you’re not sure what scenario the officer’s going to put you in so you’ve got to be ready,” said Monmouth County Police Academy Officer Tracey Tift.

The simulator’s installed at the Situational Training and Response Simulator — or STARS — facility. Officials cut the ribbon today.

It’s a retrofitted youth detention center in Freehold, that with support and funding from county freeholders, now offers regular police training clinics for first responders.

Officers learn how to remove reluctant prison inmates from their cells, how to handle domestic violence calls and proper protocol for active shooter scenarios. There’s also a K-9 training unit where patrol dogs learn to detain suspects and handlers learn Bloodhounds aren’t particularly obedient.

But this is the main attraction, and it’s supremely adaptable to tailor training for different towns.

“You can also insert video of your own iconic thing, so if there’s a mall or a building that you want to mimic, you can do so in a virtual reality setting,” Golden said.

NJ Transit also has a virtual training facility. This one is available for officers from police agencies across the state.