New 'Use-of-Force' Simulator Saves Cash, Hones Police Skills; the Training Program Is Designed to Test Decision-Making Skills of Officers
Johnson, Joe, The Florida Times Union
Byline: JOE JOHNSON
ATHENS, Ga. - A woman cowered on the living room couch, curled up against her agitated husband who pointed a gun at her.
Athens-Clarke police officer Leonard Renna entered the house, ordered the man to drop the gun, then squeezed off two quick shots when the man swung the weapon his way.
Although shot, the man wasn't injured. He was only an image on a screen.
The scene is part of a training simulator that uses realistic scenarios to help officers sharpen their decision-making skills.
"It was definitely a heightened experience," said Renna, who graduated from the police academy in January and had been used to shooting only at paper targets.
"I was nervous going into it, and it really raises your senses," the officer said.
The "Use of Force Decision Making Lab" is a program developed by Athens-Clarke police Sgt. Justin Gregory. Using the police Crime Scene Unit's video camera, his laptop computer and his father and stepmother as actors, Gregory spent less than $300 to create a training program that can cost tens of thousands of dollars to buy.
The Athens-Clarke County Police Department named Gregory as its 2007 Officer of the Year for his initiative.
"The training he developed allowed officers to make complex judgments regarding appropriate use-of-force options, from verbal commands to lethal force, all under the critical eye of a firearms trainer, while doing so in a safe environment," police officials said in a recognition announcement. "Innumerable employees commented on the effectiveness of this training after attending the course.
"His innovative efforts are to be commended, and clearly display a level of dedication to duty of which the entire agency can be proud."
The simulator isn't meant to hone officers' shooting skills. That's done during recertifications at the shooting range.
This training is meant to gauge how officers will react to situations they might face in real life.
In the scenarios, officers can defuse a situation through commands, but if the simulated bad guy chooses to resist, officers must decide how much force is needed.
NOW A REQUIREMENT
Gregory is with the police department's Career Development and Training Unit and is assistant team commander of the Special Response Team, or SWAT unit. …