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Simulator trains officers for high-stress scenarios

Blessing held Thursday for new program

Officer Jeff Calibuso demonstrates his shooting skills while taking aim at a shooter in the window of a restaurant, as part of a training scenario from the new police VirTra simulator. A blessing and demonstration of the simulator was held Thursday at the Kihei Police Station. — The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

KIHEI — Police officers will be able to train more efficiently for high-stress situations they might encounter in the field, with the use of a new training simulator that has officers making split-second decisions in lifelike scenarios, police said.

During a blessing Thursday at the Kihei Police Station, police demonstrated the VirTra simulator, which was purchased with about $245,000 in county funding.

“It sounds like a lot of money, but when you look at how technical this whole system is, it’s unbelievable,” said Lt. Clifton Perreira, commander of the police Plans, Training, Research and Development Section. “They want to make it as real as possible.”

Videos unfolding on multiple screens simulate situations that officers might encounter while responding to emergency calls or even while off duty in public.

Participants use Glock guns that have the same weight and feel as police firearms but carry CO2 cartridges that cycle like real weapons, Perreira said. He said the system is calibrated so any shots fired will show up as laser points on the screen.

Mayor Michael Victorino takes aim at a suspect holding a hostage in a movie theater as he plays the part of a police officer responding to an active shooter in a training scenario using the police VirTra simulator Thursday at the Kihei Police Station. — The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

While the demonstrations Thursday took participants through scenarios including confronting suspects with a knife and gun and multiple shooters with hostages in a movie theater, Perreira said other scenarios don’t require officers to fire their weapons.

Based on an officer’s response to the situation, the training officer running the simulator can dictate what happens next.

At times, an officer’s authority or command presence can resolve a situation, said officer Jeff Calibuso.

“There’s a lot of times we can de-escalate the situation, talk to the person,” Perreira said. “It can end without shooting.”

Police tried to get grant funding for a simulator in 2017. When that didn’t happen, police began applying for county funds while continuing to research the technology, said Maui police spokeswoman Lt. Audra Sellers. She said the funding was granted and police issued requests for proposals for the training aid last year.

The simulator replicates what an officer might come across in the field, Sellers said.

“It best replicates those high-stress scenarios. It allows you to make decisions in split seconds,” she said. “This is as close to real as we can get it. It’s like a large video game, but we wouldn’t call it a game.

“It’s pretty incredible technology.”

If an officer is hit by a shot in the scenario, the simulator will deliver a shock that the officer can feel, she said.

In addition to training with Glock handguns, the simulator can be used for training involving shotguns, rifles and Tasers, Sellers said.

“It’ll sharpen the officers’ skills without actually putting them in a bad situation,” said Assistant Chief Clyde Holokai, who heads the police Support Services Bureau.

Police Chief Tivoli Faaumu said officers could use the simulator to practice their marksmanship skills under conditions simulating the firing range before they actually go to the range for annual recall training.

“It will save us a few dollars,” he said.

“These tools will be here for years to come to train our officers,” he said at the blessing. “This is where we want them to make the mistake.”

Faaumu thanked Mayor Michael Victorino for supporting the idea, as he has done with other police requests for funding since he was a County Council member.

“It’s well worth the money,” Victorino said. “Not saving money, but saving lives, protecting our community and making it better.”

Sellers said the simulator can be run by two people.

In contrast, setting up a real-life scenario might require two or three instructors, actors and safety personnel, Sellers said.

After undergoing training on the simulator, police will begin using it next year in training for the Police Department’s 91st Recruit Class, Perreira said.

“It adds another dimension to our academy,” said Sgt. Joy Medeiros, who researched the technology. “We go from what we normally do, talking about a scenario to watching a video to now being able to interact with a video.

“Now we’re able to enhance our training. It enhances our skills when we go into the field.”

Perreira said the simulator also will be used in annual recall training for police officers.

As part of the demonstration Thursday, Victorino, Managing Director Sandy Baz and others played the role of a police officer in different simulator scenarios.

In an active shooter scenario at a movie theater, Victorino took a shot to try to save a hostage’s life, then moved down a hallway while giving commands for civilians to leave.

Victorino did well in not shooting a backup officer in plainclothes in the theater and confronted the suspect in the back of the theater, Calibuso noted.

In real life, creating such an active-shooter exercise takes a lot of effort, Calibuso said.

With the simulator, “they can run through a very good scenario with very little lead-up effort,” he said.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.

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