Harford deputies training for hundreds of scenarios, including active shooters

Harford deputies training for hundreds of scenarios, including active shooters

EDGEWOOD, Md. (WBFF) - In Harford County, deputies are now using brand-new technology to train for hundreds of situations, from those involving an active shooter to traffic calls.

The point is to put deputies in stressful scenarios to train officers on how to make the safest, smartest decisions.

"This is making officers make split second decisions," said Deputy Thomas Wehrle.

The simulator is called VirTra.

"Things are going to happen all around you," said Harford County Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler.

The 300-degree-simulator mimics real-life calls officers respond to.

"This is about as realistic as you can get without actually being on the street," the sheriff said.

Here's how it works: The person being trained steps on the simulator’s stage, surrounded by screens where the scenario will appear.

What happens in each scenario depends largely on the officer's reaction.

They're making split second decisions when it comes to de-escalating situations and whether or not to use force.

"We're not responding to every call with our gun already pointed at someone," said Wehrle. "They have to react and make sure their use of force is appropriate."

"I can design scenarios," said Captain Carl Brooks. He is one of six deputies trained to operate the simulator, choosing how the scenario plays out based on the reaction of whoever's training.

"We call it 'branching,'" said Wehrle. "He can click ‘Compliant subject’. He can click ‘Pulls out a gun’. He can click ‘Argues and takes as a hostage’. Each scenario has a list of options it could go to."

Not all scenarios end with shots fired.

"If I can calm you down and find you other resources so I don't have to turn to use of force, that's the best day for all of us," said Brooks.

There are 250 simulations. In some, use of force is necessary, but not in all.

"You have to ask yourself if it's necessary to shoot this person, even though you may be able to articulate it's justified," Wehrle said.

Officers are learning how to negotiate a safe surrender, when to take cover, when to use force and how little time they have to decide all of it.

"Going through these, having officers think first of their safety and other's safety, it's going to make them a better police officer," said Gahler. "When you don't do it perfectly, that's a learning point. You learn from what you don't do right. Hopefully that takes you where you're as right as possible on the street."

The guns deputies use in the simulator are designed to recoil just like their real weapons would. They can also wear a device mimics the feeling of getting shot if they get hit during a simulation.

When they run out of ammunition, they have to complete the exercise just like they would in real life.

Deputies can also train in the simulator using non-lethal weapons like a Taser or pepper spray.

The technology cost around $350,000. It was paid for by money seized by the sheriff's office's Drug Task Force.

Gahler said it will end up saving the department money when it comes to training.

He says it costs a quarter of a penny to fire a round in the simulation versus $0.50 for firing a round at the training range.

"This is stress inoculation shooting," said Wehrle. "We have to identify and make decisions here. That's unlike anything we can get at the range. We don't have that technology in law enforcement. You can only get that in this type of environment."

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