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Simulator gives Kearney police a closer look at handling force

Published: Jan. 7, 2021 at 6:23 PM CST
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KEARNEY, Neb. (KSNB) - In an effort to reduce the use of lethal force, the Kearney Police Department has a new simulator to help them train for their calls out in the field.

The VirTra simulator allows for one officer to control how a real-life situation plays out during a response call. The officer training will have to make split second decisions on how to respond to the way different people react to the police presence. The simulation uses guns powered by air and sensors. They create kickbacks and limited ammunition. The police department hopes that with practice it can help officers in the field remember how they reacted to a similar situation in the simulation.

“The words I use either are or are not effective. If they are not effective you could create a lethal force encounter where somebody has a weapon that wants to do harm,” Lieutenant Kevin Thompson said. “Or they could place that weapon on the ground and say enough is enough.”

In one instance, a person pulls out a knife and lunges at an officer. The trainee has to decide what to do as the other officer is in potential danger. The program can show them just how fast they react and the different outcomes depending on when the officer would advance on the individual.

“We don’t experience a lethal encounter every day and that’s the beauty of living in central Nebraska and a community like this.,” Lt. Thompson said. “But when we do there are those moments that are very high stress. The beauty of it is we get the train for that.”

The officer behind the keyboard decides how the scene plays out. They could make the person drop the knife or include another attacker into the mix. The goal of the program is to give officers practice in these different environments so they become more aware of their surroundings and how they would deescalate the situation before force would be needed.

“Officers are placed into a situation where a split second decision needs to be made and for me I want to provide those officers with everything, every bit of training they can have in advance of those dynamic situations,” Chief Bryan Waugh said.

Chief Waugh also said the department began looking at the simulator after national calls for police reform over the summer. He wants his officers to be prepared for what they could be faced with to reduce the amount of force needed at a call.

“Our officers understand that there are levels of force and we always train towards the appropriate use of force based on the level of resistance that is being offered by a subject during the job,” Chief Waugh said.

As more of the Kearney officers get trained on how to use and run the simulator they will open it up to other police departments to use around the Tri-Cities. It is just one of three of the machines in the state and was made possible through a community donation.

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