Virtual training helps officers decide: shoot or don't shoot

Shoot or don't shoot
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)

POCAHONTAS, AR (KAIT) - It looks and sounds very real. And that's the point.

"It's as close as we can get to the real thing without being the real thing," says Ben Runnels with the Law Enforcement Training Academy at Black River Technical College in Pocahontas.

It's called the Virtra system

Three hundred degrees of heart pounding, surround sounding, as real as it gets training.

The $239,000 system can take officers through 75 different scenarios. That includes everything from a nervous drunk driver to an inmate that's harming himself to the nightmare scenario of a shooting at a school or movie theater.

But the Virtra system isn't just a life-sized video game. It can change depending on what officers do or don't do while in the simulator.

Instructor Ben Runnels can decide if a suspect puts down his gun or turns it on officers depending on how the officer reacts. Very often that requires the cops to talk to the characters they are facing on-screen.

"There are different dialogues. The officer can escalate or de-escalate a situation and calm them down," Runnels says.

One more thing that makes the Virtra very real. The bad guys just don't "virtually" shoot back. They can hit you.

Officers wear mini-Tasers while in the simulation. If they mess up, they get zapped.

"A small shock. If someone comes up behind them and outflanks them they get a small pain response. That definitely gets their blood flowing and their hearts pumping. It turns real very quickly," Runnels says.

"Just because you're shot it doesn't mean you're dead. You have to keep going," adds Runnels.

So how tough and how real is it? BRTC President Dr. Eric Turner and Region 8 News anchor Craig Rickert gave it a try. Their scenario was the school shooting.

They got the bad guys and didn't get zapped by the Tasers they were wearing.

For Dr. Turner the Virtra gave him a new respect for those split-second decisions officers have to make in the field. Those milliseconds where an officer has to decide "shoot or don't shoot."

"It gives you even more pause, and makes you sick to your stomach, like, oh my, I pray that you guys are safe," Turner said.

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