You’re a law enforcement officer headed to the scene of a car accident. It’s a routine call, one you’ve responded to many times before.
But as you proceed you’re suddenly faced with a vehicle that ignores your lights and siren and pulls directly in front of you. You have only seconds to react.
That was one of the scenarios faced by local law enforcement officers who participated in training with the mobile Judgmental Driving Simulator. That and a mobile firearms simulator were made available to Fulton County law enforcement agencies last week by the office of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.
Introduced in 2012, the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy (OPOTA) simulators arrive by truck and trailer to offer law enforcement across the state training in their area. Otherwise, the officers would have to travel to one of OPOTA’s two locations for training, the cities of London and Richfield, said Jill Del Greco, a DeWine spokesperson.
“In an effort to get to more law enforcement agencies across the state with the mobile academy, we are able to bring the training to law enforcement agencies,” she said. “It’s been very, very popular, and a lot of law enforcement agencies are taking advantage of it.”
So popular, in fact, that the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office, which requested use of the simulators, waited almost nine months for a schedule opening. The approximately $28,000 mobile firearm simulator and approximately $160,000 driving simulator with trailer brought to Wauseon for three days are one of six of each traveling to law enforcement agencies around Ohio.
All of the equipment is paid for by two percent of Ohio’s casinos taxes deposited in the attorney general’s Law Enforcement Training Fund. Use of the simulators for training purposes is provided free of cost.
Scott Mann, an OPOTA instructor who travels with the units, said the simulators reinforce and refresh the mental aspects of what the officers learn in the academy.
“It opens up their eyes to what we should be looking for when we’re responding to things. Sometimes, we get complacent,” he said.
Both the driving and firearms simulators can present myriad scenarios officers may run into when responding to a call. The scenes can depict anything from a routine traffic stop to a serious accident, and from a seemingly benign complaint call to an armed intruder.
The driving simulator is especially integral to officers’ training, since auto mishaps are usually the leading cause of law enforcement fatalities in the U.S. each year, Mann said.
The training was mandatory for deputies of the sheriff’s office, and for Sheriff Roy Miller himself. The officers have firearms training at least once a year, and driving training once every two years.
“You always learn something new out of the simulations,” Miller said. He insists on firearm training “because you can get complacent. You do it over and over…and you never know when anything will change. And that’s how people get killed.”
He said his officers can make driving mistakes like any other motorist. “It basically makes you aware of your surroundings,” he said.
“By offering these tools, I’m trying to do my part to keep the public safe and get (the deputies) home safely to their families at night.”
Swanton Police Department Chief Adam Berg sent all of his full-time officers and one part-time officer to the training. It’s the first experience the department has had with simulation training.
“It helps with the different scenarios they come up with. You’re actually living it out,” Berg said. “I think it helps the guys think about things they may not have thought about.”
He said that’s especially true with the driving simulation, since driving is such a routine chore. “There are a bunch of factors that we don’t think about,” he said.
The department will work to implement simulator training a couple of times each year, as a companion to the mandatory firearm training it conducts at least three times annually, Berg said.
Archbold patrolman Isaac Brenneman took the wheel of the driving simulator and was instructed to go to the scene of a two-car accident. While traversing the winding route through city streets he successfully maneuvered around one or two motorists who ignored the simulator’s lights and siren and crossed his path.
A one-year member of the police force, Brenneman had previous experience on a simulator while in the military. His only complaint was the lack of feedback a driver experiences with an actual vehicle.
“It’s good for everybody,” he said of the training. “This is kind of nice because it keeps you on your toes. It reinforces that every time you get in the car you have to be aware of your surroundings.”
Archbold’s interim police chief, Thom Ross, said both driving and firearm training are mandatory for his officers. “Any training that you get is beneficial,” he said.
Several Wauseon police officers participated, and the entire force will undergo mandatory firearms training through a different simulator provider in September.
Chief Keith Torbet said an annual refresher course in the decision-making process regarding the use of force is essential.
“I think people get complacent when they do things over and over. We want people to refer back to their training. The more training you give them, the better their reactions will be,” he said.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.