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Sault College simulator gives Police Foundations students an edge, professor says

Hi-tech system teaches Sault College Police Foundations students how to avoid use of force, but how to use it if necessary

Sault College Police Foundations students who go on to attend the Ontario Police College (OPC) in Aylmer, Ont. are more well prepared than ever thanks to a new indoor simulator located at the college.  

The simulator, which Sault College purchased from Ann Arbour, Michigan-based Milo Range Training Systems for approximately $110,000, was put into use for Sault College Justice Studies faculty members and students in September.

“They're really ready (for Ontario Police College). There are a number of students who have come back and told us OPC was ‘a nice review’ for them. They spend two years with us here learning a lot of the same material at Ontario Police College. They operate at a much higher level at OPC, and that makes us feel good,” said Jeff Barnes, a Police Foundations professor within Sault College’s Justice Studies department and former OPP officer.

The simulator’s system, Barnes said, contains over 850 scenarios in which Police Foundations students talk to people to gain their compliance in situations.

“They (the actors shown on the simulator’s screen) will argue with you, they’ll run away, they’ll attack you, they’ll comply with you, there’s a whole array of things the characters on screen will do.”

The simulator can, for example, show a male trespasser in a wooded area being effectively talked into leaving the area, and another in which the same trespasser gets violent.

In one scenario shown to SooToday, Barnes persuaded the trespasser he needs possible medical help and food.

“What we try to teach the students on this one, for example, is not to say ‘you’re trespassing, you have to leave, get off the property.’ This person has a lot of issues, he’s talking about land mines, so open up a dialogue with the individual, turn it around into a ‘we’re not there to hurt him, but help him,’ we want to make sure he’s safe and sound, warm and well fed and physically okay, all those positive things as opposed to getting into a confrontation,” Barnes said.

“If the students say the wrong thing, like ‘if you don’t come with us now we’re going to arrest you,’ he will escalate immediately. He’ll get into a fist fight, it gets out of hand very quickly and if that happens the student will have to use force.”

“We’ll ask the student ‘why do you think that happened? Were your words poorly chosen? Could you have said something else that would have diffused the situation?’ and that’s what we’re looking for. What people don’t see is that 99 per cent of the time police officers do that and talk to the individual. Police officers are now taking mental health professionals with them on patrol. A lot of people need help, they don’t need jail,” Barnes said.

“While you’re here and interacting with these people on the screen, should you need to go to a use of force option, this system actually recognizes what you do. If I use a taser on a person, and depending on my commands, the computer will automatically flip to ‘go to tasing,’ and that person will actually be seen reacting to the taser and fall to the ground, with similar reactions to a person being pepper sprayed or hit with a baton. The firearms fire infrared lasers and the ‘bullet hole’ will appear (students shoot with real bullets at the Algoma Rod & Gun Club’s outside shooting range).”

Officers are gravitating more toward taser use these days, Barnes said, as the conducted energy weapon leaves no lasting ill effects, whereas pepper spray causes “45 minutes of misery, flushing an individual’s eyes out, contaminates the police cruiser, the cell block, so officers are really going more toward the tasers.”

“This simulator takes them to a level where they’re completely safe with a firearm before we take them out to the range. I was absolutely blown away with how good they were with those firearms, and everything was learned here first on a simulator, in a safe environment.”

“(The simulator is) quite impressive technology.”

If use of force is needed in a scenario, the system provides the necessary tools.

“It goes all the way from firearms down to the less lethal taser, OC spray (pepper spray), baton and things of that nature. It can teach you to shoot very, very effectively.”

But, Barnes emphasized, “the big thing for us is non-violent crisis intervention, gaining voluntary compliance from individuals through dialogue as opposed to using force. The last option for any police officer is using force. It’s much easier to get people to simply comply with your wishes and commands as opposed to engaging in any type of using force.”

“We tell all our students this simulator allows you to use your number one weapon, which is your mouth, your ability to talk to people. That’s your number one weapon in law enforcement.”

“The media focuses on weaponry because that’s what leads in the news, if it’s violent and extreme, but 99 per cent of police interactions with the public are non-violent, and that’s what we focus on here,” Barnes said.

Our SooToday video shows different simulator scenarios, including:

  • a trespasser getting violent (which would necessitate use of force)  
  • a suicidal woman, after cutting her wrists with a knife, being tasered and disarmed, both for her own safety and that of an approaching officer
  • two different scenarios, featuring Sault College Police Foundations professor Al Montgomery first being pepper sprayed, then shot after refusing to drop a weapon
  • Barnes and Martha Irwin, Sault College Community Services and Interdisciplinary Studies chair, displaying their shooting skills on the simulator’s screen
  • Barnes seated at the simulator’s computer
  • an array of equipment used by Police Foundations students

“We have an entire array of use of force options available to an officer, but if we can go non-violent, we go non-violent. If we can solve things by dialogue, we do it by dialogue,” said James Pardy, Sault College Police Foundations professor and former Maritimes police officer.

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Darren Taylor

About the Author: Darren Taylor

Darren Taylor is a news reporter and photographer in Sault Ste Marie. He regularly covers community events, political announcements and numerous board meetings. With a background in broadcast journalism, Darren has worked in the media since 1996.
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