Largo Police Officer Mike Freire participates in a scenario April 4 during a demonstration of Largo Police Department’s Firearms Training Simulator.
LARGO – Two Largo police trainees arrive at the scene of a domestic dispute. They can hear a man and woman screaming at the rear of the house.
They run around the side of the home to find a man holding a gun to his head, screaming at his wife, who is inside.
“I’m going to do it,” he yells frantically. “You can’t stop me. You can’t stop me.”
“Sir, put the gun down,” one of the trainees responds. “Put the gun down, sir.”
He turns to point the gun and is met with a wave of gunfire, but he somehow manages to quickly flee. The trainees run him down and once again he moves to aim the gun.
They open fire again but this time he doesn’t escape, falling dead to the ground.
The entire scenario lasts only a minute.
But in that minute, the “trainees,” Mayor Woody Brown and City Commissioner Curtis Holmes, found out what it was like to wear a badge, wield a gun and have to make a split-second decision.
The scenario was part of a demonstration April 4 in which the department showcased its new, state-of-the-art Firearms Training Simulator and allowed city commissioners to test it out.
And while Brown and Holmes weren’t real officers, the situation they were facing was real.
Officer Michael Freire knows because he went through it.
“(That scenario is) about 99 percent accurate,” said Freire, who was demonstrating the equipment. “Watching that unfold, believe it or not, brings me back to it.”
The system, which costs about $100,000 and was purchased using federal grants and civil forfeitures, uses a wall-sized screen and handheld firearms to simulate real-life situations. It also allows officers the option of using alternatives, such as an assault rifle, Taser, pepper spray or baton.
The biggest benefit, however, is that it offers more than 350 scenarios that can help improve officers’ decision-making.
“(The simulator) enhances our training program and gives the officers a more realistic view of judgment on the street – shoot, don’t shoot scenarios – and helps with their verbal rapport as they are talking to folks on the streets,” Police Chief Jeffrey Undestad said.
Undestad said Largo is the only police department in the county currently using it, and it’s a vast improvement over the previous system, which was about 25 years old and just allowed officers to fire a laser at a screen.
The weapons, which cost about $9,000 each, feature cartridges loaded with compressed air that provide a loud noise and kick about half as much as a real weapon.
The software also can allow the instructor to increase or decrease the intensity of a situation by adding threats, causing a weapons malfunction or having the shooter run out of ammunition. Aside from typical scenarios like traffic stops, some of the newer ones include locations such as classrooms, jails and airports.
While the system is no substitute for being on duty, Sgt. Richelle Bradshaw said the education it can provide is essential.
“We bring (recruits) in and their decision-making is questionable,” she said. “So, you bring them in here and you play different scenarios for them.”
She said customizing the scenarios also helps teach valuable lessons, such as how to defuse a situation using only words.
“Every officer is different,” she said. “That is why the verbalization is huge for us, because no officers think alike. Officers have different lines in the sand.”
Having the simulator in the building also helps save officers’ time and money on ammunition.
“What it does for us is it allows us to do training on the fly,” Freire said.
He said if instructors want to take an officer to practice shooting, they have to make sure the range is available and that everyone officer is covered because the nearest range is in Pinellas Park.
With this system, they can bring officers in when it’s convenient and get them back out the door and on the street.
“The point of this entire thing is just to give them extra tools so they stay safe on the street and they make a good decision,” Freire said. “And it’s nice having it right here, right in the building.”
The Firearms Training Simulator trains LPD officers in the proper handling of use of force by exposing them to situations that would be too dangerous or difficult to replicate in a training environment with live ammunition and role players.
$100,000 Total cost of the Largo Police Department’s Firearms Training Simulator. The system was funded through federal grants and civil forfeitures. Each of the weapons it employs, such as handguns, assault rifles and Tasers, cost about $9,000.
366 Number of scenarios the simulator features, including those at traffic stops, classrooms, jails and airports. The instructor also can personalize each scenario for the individual shooter and can increase or decrease the intensity of the situation to match the shooter’s ability level.
60 How many seconds the scenario Mayor Woody Brown and Commissioner Curtis Holmes participated in lasted. During the scenario, the pair had to open fire on a gunman twice.
Chris George is editor of the Largo Leader. He can be reached at 727-397-5563, ext. 316, or by email at cgeorge@TBNweekly.com.