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New firearm simulator may help save lives, police say

(Mike DeBernardo)


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Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

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SALT LAKE COUNTY — Police officers only get a split second to decide if they should shoot or not shoot. Salt Lake County officials believes their new state-of-the-art firearm training simulator will hone split-second decision making skills that save lives.

The VirTra simulator forces the officer to assess the threat and make a judgment about what amount force is necessary. The user must assess not only what is right in front of them, but also what is surrounding them on all sides.

The sights and sounds of the simulator are realistic enough to raise the pulse of the user. One of the simulations depicts a school shooting. The user doesn't know how many shooters there are, and the chaos is all around.

In another simulation, the user spotted a shooter, but there were children between them. Once the user dealt with the shooter, he realized that there was another shooter that must be located.

The VirTra simulator is located at the sheriff's shooting range in Parleys Canyon and it is the only simulator to offer a 300 degree wrap-around experience.

"You have 360 degrees that you are dealing with. This has never happened for us before," said Range Master Nick Roberts of the Unified Police Department.

"It will help officers with their decision making ability. It will help them with their reaction time. It will help them with their accuracy. Overall, it will make our community a lot more safe," said Unified Police Department Assistant Chief Shane Hudson.

The scenarios are intricate and variable, and easily changed based on the officer's decisions. If the user makes good decisions, the scenario de-escalates, but if bad decisions are made, the scenario escalates. If the officer gets "shot" in the simulator, he receives an electric jolt.

"The better informed they are, the better training they have, then they're going to make better decisions," said Sim Gill, Salt Lake District Attorney. "You can also train here to go from lethal force to non-lethal force. For example, you can use a Taser (or pepper spray) in this same simulator."

The district attorney's Office used $500,000 in asset forfeiture money, along with $250,000 from the county's general fund, to pay for the simulator.

"If (officers) make the best decisions, and it results in less shootings of civilians, then it's a win-win for everybody," Gill said.

All police officer in Salt Lake County will be allowed to train on the VirTra simulator.

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