The Salem Police Foundation held a breakfast with the chief on Wednesday, Feb. 19. (Courtesy/Salem Police Department)
After the Salem Police Foundation breakfast fundraiser, a group of people at the Salem Convention Center each waited to pick up a retrofitted handgun and confront criminals — in the virtual world.
The first participant stood at a table, a police officer next to him, and watched as a man on screen yelled, holding one hand in his pocket.
Suddenly, the virtual man pulled his hand out of his pocket emptyhanded before reaching behind his back to pull out a gun.
The participant fired several shots before the gunman fell to the ground, ending the simulation.
The single-screen, use-of-force scenario displayed Wednesday is a small-scale version of a $135,000 Ti Training simulator the Salem Police Department is currently trying to raise money for.
So far, Salem police Lt. Treven Upkes said the foundation has raised $35,000 for a computer program that will project scenarios police might encounter onto three 10-foot by 14-foot panels.
The new police headquarters, set to open at the end of this year, will have a room dedicated to the virtual training program.
Salem police Sgt. Matt Riddle said there’s an instructor behind the scenes manipulating the program while officers make split-second decisions. The simulator has a choose your own adventure quality, with different variations of the same scenario.
If the instructor hears the officer deescalating the situation, they can change the outcome to reflect that.
“It’s not a shooting simulator,” Riddle said. “It’s a decision-making simulator.”
Riddle said the trainings are more realistic when an officer’s peers don’t have to don Darth Vader masks and pretend to be criminals.
“Right now, our officers they see it all the time, it’s a middle-aged white male cop that’s an actor roleplaying and you don’t get a variety,” he said.
On Wednesday, police showed a video poking fun at their old training methods by showcasing an officer pointing a finger gun at a piece of cardboard set to classical music. A string flies toward the cardboard as the officer says: “get down on the ground.”
In the video, the “new simulator” portion shows a man holding a woman hostage set to rock music.
The program has adaptors for Tasers, handguns, flashlights, shotguns and other pieces of equipment.
Upkes said they’ll be able to train more frequently because they won’t have to coordinate offsite trainings and it keeps the graveyard shift officers from having to change their sleep schedules to accommodate training times.
Currently, Upkes said officers train quarterly, but with the new simulator he said they could bump it up to weekly.
Riddle said the program will lead to better retention because of how often officers can practice.
“It’s us keeping up with modern times and leveraging technology to our advantage,” Riddle said.
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