The decision by a police officer to use lethal force can happen in less than a second but have a lifelong effect on the officer and the lives of many others.

With the aid of a video training program, Seymour Police Department officers hope to be better trained to make the best decision should the need arrive.

It’s called the Firearms Training Simulator, or FATS for short. Using a projection screen, light guns to interact with the screen and a human trainer, the system allows officers a chance to see and react to a large variety of scenarios, many taken from real-life experiences of other officers.

“It helps us with decision making, using all of your senses to gather information and then think through the outcome to determine the best action,” said Chadd Rogers, a firearms instructor for the police department.

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An officer undergoing the training is armed with a replica of a service pistol, replica taser and potentially a flashlight or a replica rifle, depending on the situation.

A video of the scenario is projected before them, and they are encouraged to interact as if it is a real-life scenario. Depending on the officer’s actions or lack of actions, a firearms instructor can change the scenario to escalate situations, deescalate situations or otherwise alter them.

Afterward, the scenario can be rewound, and any shots fired can be checked by firearms instructors and discussed with the officer.

“One of the best things about FATS is it gives you the chance to replay and discuss with the officer what they did well or not so well and better options for them the next time,” Police Chief Bill Abbott said.

There are many benefits to using the training, Officer Bart Bevers said.

“The outcomes can be changed, say if the officer is using good commands or using cover, its benefits far outreach static (shooting at a range) or dynamic (shooting around obstacles) shooting,” said Bevers, who also is a firearms instructor.

The scenarios range greatly, from a student taking hostages at a school to random encounters on the street that could potentially turn serious.

The scenarios also demonstrate how situations for police can escalate, such having someone who is a polite driver suddenly pulling a firearm and firing at an officer because of an unknown warrant. Situations also can deescalate, such as a man with a gun pointed at the officer as he walks around a corner suddenly identifying himself as a plain-clothed police officer.

Some members of the public, including city council members and school officials, were invited to experience the simulations as a means to better understand the mindset and situations upon thrust upon police.

“It’s nerve-racking,” said Brian D’Arco, a city council member. “If people haven’t been in these situations, they don’t know what police officers go through.”

D’Arco said the stress comes from having to evaluate a situation in an instant and make the decision of what force, if any, is necessary and then watching the consequences of their action or inaction.

“After seeing some of the situations police have been in and trying to get through them myself, I definitely have great respect for them,” D’Arco said.

“You get to see what we deal with on a daily basis,” school resource officer Craig Owens said. “Everybody scrutinizes cops, but it’s different to actually be doing it.”

Besides teaching decision-making, the simulations also teach tactical lessons to the police officers.

“Things like when you’re chasing someone, be cautious around corners, don’t get tunnel vision,” Owens said after watching someone else run through a scenario resulting in them being shot as they chased a subject around a corner.

The trainers also questioned police afterwards about small details, such as what people were wearing or how a person was behaving.

Rogers said this is to teach the officers to pay attention to details and realize that their accounts may not match up with what really happened or could be shown from the cameras the officers carry in a real situation.

“The FATS system is probably one of the best tools for training we have short of doing force-on-force (training involving living people with training weapons) to teach decision making and judgment,” Abbott said.

Abbott recalls using a similar program when he was at the police academy but said the simulator was nowhere near as sophisticated.

“It’s just so realistic, and the situations are based on real events,” Abbott said.

The simulator was rented for a week (Jan. 8 through 15) from En-Mark Simulator Rentals for less than $4,500, Abbott said. The company travels around the United States with the training simulator and an additional driving training simulation.

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