Sheriffs deputies train for dangerous scenarios using virtual system
Westmoreland County Deputy Sheriff Irvin Shipley cautiously walked down a school hallway, brandishing his gun and calling out to the gunman who left numerous bullet-riddled bodies in his path.
In a blink of an eye, a boy wearing a yellow T-shirt ran out into the hallway with a gun raised. Shipley fired once and took out the target.
That imaginary incident is one of 300 training scenarios that Shipley and deputies are practicing this week using a computer simulator purchased by the sheriff's office and installed on Monday.
“It gives us real-life scenarios to train in without the expense of ammunition or the risk of injury,” Sheriff Jonathan Held said.
His department purchased the Laser Shot system using a $17,000 grant. The computerized system gives deputies a real service revolver that is fitted with a laser to simulate gunfire.
Deputies react to what they see and hear on a large movie screen on which actors depict dangerous scenarios such as school shootings, courthouse incidents involving visitors and defendants with guns, domestic abuse calls and even car chases that end in gunfire.
Meanwhile, a trainer sits at the computer and adjusts the scenario based on a deputy's verbal commands.
Sgt. Jesse Salandro, who is acting as the trainer for the exercises, said in real life deputies have not had to draw their weapons in years, but the training reinforces the proper way to handle situations.
“The potential is always there for anything to happen,” Salandro said. “You don't want it to be, in real life, the first time you are in a situation that happens, and then not know what will occur.”
Held said each of the county's 73 deputies will complete the computerized training, which this week was set up temporarily in the courthouse basement.
The training program will be made available to police departments throughout Westmoreland County, Held said.
Deputies said the practice is invaluable.
Deputy Dave Endlich practiced handling incidents that could occur at the courthouse. He watched two men approach a metal detector. As an on-screen officer was distracted by one man, a second man walked around the security point, and pointed a gun.
Endlich calmly fired two shots, hitting the attacker once in the chest.
“You see the same scenario you would see as a policeman. You can talk people down, too. It's not just shooting,” Endlich said.
Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or firstname.lastname@example.org.