News From Terre Haute, Indiana

August 23, 2013

Video brings reality to law enforcement training

West Terre Haute Police, Vigo deputies experience ‘interactive’ situations

Lisa Trigg
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — With some good spoken commands from Chief Deputy Clark Cottom, a simulated traffic stop being played out on a video screen ended peaceably Wednesday with a suspect on a motorcycle simply showing his driver’s license.

But with the push of a replay button, danger entered the simulation, as the same traffic stop quickly escalated into a violent confrontation when the now irate motorcyclist pulled out a concealed handgun and started shooting.

Cottom returned fire and ended the simulated violent situation using training weapons synched to a video program. It was part of the Firearms Training Simulation program provided during the past week to deputies with the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department and the West Terre Haute Police Department.

“This is interactive,” Cottom said of the training, which puts an “armed” officer in front of a video screen to play out a scenario that can end either peacefully or with some police action. “When we go to the shooting range, these targets are not shooting back.”

But in the videos, the bad guys took hostages at knifepoint, pulled out hidden weapons, ran from police and hijacked cars. Knowing when to use force, and which force was appropriate, was part of the mandatory training for the officers.

All sworn police officers must do training on use of force, firearms, tactics, tazing and driving, Cottom said. The sheriff’s department schedules training throughout the year, he said, often sharing the cost with another police agency. The $4,000 cost for this training was split between the sheriff’s department at the West Terre Haute Police.

Training sergeant John Davis said the training is so realistic that the officer involved will have physical responses such as increased heart rate and sweaty palms. No officer wants to use deadly force, he said, but there are times when officers are placed in a deadly situation.

In one scenario, a mentally disturbed woman was located behind a convenience store talking erratically to people only she could see. As Cottom interacted with the scenario, asking the woman to calm down, she pulled out a knife and began jabbing the air. Cottom was able to talk the woman into dropping the knife by assuring her that he was there to help her.

At the controls of the computer program, Davis can change how the scenario unfolds if the officer is saying the correct things to diffuse a tense situation.

A perfect scenario, Cottom said, is two officers at the scene with different weapons out. In one scenario, he used a taser to subdue a suspect because another officer had already drawn a firearm.

Another part of the training is to get the officers to react quickly without using the gun sights. Cottom said that at a firing range, officers are taught to use the sights on the gun to shoot accurately. But in a real-time shootout, officers do not have time to use the sights, he said.

At the end of the training, this reporter was given an opportunity to try out the simulated action.

The interaction of walking through a crowd of people with a handcuffed suspect was an unnerving, and gave an appreciation of how an officer must be ready for any scenario to unfold.

In one case, an inmate being led into court jumped an officer, grabbed his gun and began firing while running from the courtroom. That led to a tense search through the building, outside to a parking area, and a shootout as the suspect hijacked a vehicle.

The program tracked how many times the “officer in training” fired a weapon, and where the bullets struck or didn’t strike.

Training for such stressful situations is critical for police officers, Cottom said.

“We don’t want the first time an officer encounters an armed or violent experience to be the first time in real life,” he said. “If you don’t have that prior experience, you might hesitate. And hesitation gets officers killed.”

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.