VALPARAISO | A police officer responding to a suspicious person call approaches a man standing next to his car. The car's hood is up, and the man says something to the officer, who turns and begins to walk away when the man suddenly whips out a gun and prepares to shoot at nearly point blank range.
That's just one of the potential shooting scenarios offered on the new Ti Training equipment bought jointly by Valparaiso and Portage police departments with $40,000 in federal grant money. The scenarios play out on a life-sized screen under the guidance of a trainer.
Valparaiso Police Chief Michael Brickner was tested on four separate shooting scenarios Monday. Brickner said he's used it a couple of times since it was bought last year, and he called it "a great training tool."
"It's also a lot of fun for the officers," he said. "It's about as realistic as you can get. Your heart rate goes up, and the adrenaline gets going."
An officer training is the backup at the scene in some cases and the primary officer in others. In the suspicious person scenario, Brickner was the backup and was called on to respond "with deadly force."
He had a handgun with a laser system the computer used to determine the accuracy of each shot. A hit and the suspect falls to the ground. A miss and the next shot might be too late to save the other officer's life.
"The last thing you want is a scared officer," Sgt. Jim Tobey, the Valparaiso department's firearms instructor, said. "With repetition, it builds confidence, and they are better under stress."
The computer is programmed with more than 300 scenarios, all of which can be altered to provide different training experiences. They cover everything from domestic disputes to hostage situations to a person under the influence of drugs or alcohol. It also has scenarios working with a K-9 companion. Other scenarios can be added.
Cameras follow the actions of the officer being trained and simulate it on the screen. Padded barricades are set up in the training room to provide cover for the officer. It can be set for the handgun, a Taser, shotgun, or other weapon. Sound effects can add to the sense of reality with everything from playground or crowd noise to a train.
The results of each scenario are reviewed and repeated again and again. Or they can just do target practice.
"We have our training set up for the year," Brickner said. "We will work with Portage to accommodate them. We wanted a system that was portable. It's fun training to be able to use it, and the response we've gotten has been very positive. It's a wise use of resources. Those type of grants don't come along often."