Sections

Weather Forecast

Close

New Willmar PD simulator trains officers in use of force

1 / 9
Erica Dischino / Tribune Willmar Police Officer Tony La Patka, left, uses a computer monitor Monday to choose various interactive scenarios while Officer Ross Livingood tests his aim on the new use-of-force simulator at the Law Enforcement Center in Willmar. The simulator has over 800 scenarios for training in decision-making in the use of force.2 / 9
Erica Dischino / Tribune The Willmar Police Department recently purchased a simulator used for training officers to use appropriate force in various situations. The simulator uses pistols with sensors to detect where a shot was aimed. 3 / 9
Erica Dischino / Tribune The Willmar Police Department recently purchased a simulator used for training officers in deciding the appropriate use of force. The simulator, which has over 800 interactive scenarios, is controlled through a computer monitor by an instructor who chooses scenarios the officer will encounter. 4 / 9
Erica Dischino / Tribune Willmar Police Officer Tony La Patka, a use-of-force instructor, uses a computer monitor Monday at the The Willmar Police Department to choose various scenarios for training with the recently purchased simulator. The simulator has over 800 scenarios for training officers in the use of force.5 / 9
Erica Dischino / Tribune Willmar Police Officer Ross Livingood, center, who also serves as a use-of-force instructor, discusses his decision-making process Monday in Willmar after testing the department’s recently purchased simulator. Officer Tony La Patka, left, controls the scenarios on the computer monitor and Capt. Mike Anderson listens in the back. 6 / 9
Erica Dischino / Tribune Willmar Police Capt. Mike Anderson demonstrates Monday the recently purchased simulator used for training officers in deciding the appropriate use of force in various situations. The simulator uses pistols fitted with sensors to detect where a shot was aimed. 7 / 9
Erica Dischino / Tribune Willmar Police Capt. Mike Anderson holds a pistol retrofitted with sensors to detect where a shot was aimed when used with the department’s recently purchased simulator. The simulator is used to train officers in appropriate use of force. 8 / 9
Erica Dischino / Tribune Willmar Police Officer Ross Livingood holds a pistol fitted with sensors for use with the department’s recently purchased simulator used to train officers in the appropriate use of force.9 / 9

WILLMAR — When the police officer enters the kitchen of a house after responding to a report of domestic assault, the female victim says her assailant just got out of jail, is drunk and has a gun.

The man comes around a corner, waves a booze bottle around, apologizes for the police being called and then suddenly pulls out a gun and fires at the officer.

Quick on the draw, the officer fires first and the assailant falls to the floor.

In this case, the domestic assault is taking place on a life-size video screen and the responding officer, Willmar Police Officer Ross Livingood, is standing in the training room at the Law Enforcement Center in Willmar.

The officer's pistol fires an infrared laser.

Then, with a couple clicks on the computer, police arrive at a parking lot where two men are arguing and one pulls a gun from his pants and fires at the officer.

Again, Livingood successfully takes out the shooter.

A reporter who stepped into the exercise Monday wasn't so lucky. These are some of the 800 real-life scenarios available on a new use-of-force simulator the Willmar Police Department recently purchased to train officers and demonstrated Monday to members of the local media.

Costing nearly $20,000, the mobile training lab will enhance officer safety and "make sure they use the right type of force when they need to use it," said Police Chief Jim Felt.

The training will also improve public safety, he said.

"We obviously never want to respond to a higher level of force than what we need to. We're very diligent about that," Felt said. "We work very hard to train that way.

Several officers from the Willmar Police Department and Kandiyohi County Sheriff's Office underwent training on how to use the system. This week, officers from both departments will have their first opportunity to use the simulator and hone their decision-making skills, Felt said.

Local elected officials will also get to experience the adrenaline-inducing, think-fast-on-your-feet scenarios.

Trainers, including Officer Tony LaPatka, can manipulate the scenarios from a laptop to make them different every time.

With the domestic situation, for example, one time the female victim picks up a gun from the kitchen counter and shoots at the officer, and in yet another variation, as the drunk man apologizes and waves his bottle around, the woman calmly picks up the gun and shoots him.

"We try to get the training as real as possible," LaPatka said.

Frequent training, he said, can help older officers who are "set in our ways" and help younger, inexperienced officers.

Not every scenario involves the use of a firearm to resolve the situation.

Officers can use pepper spray, Taser stun guns, pistols or rifles retrofitted with the infrared lights. Officers are encouraged to also use verbal commands to de-escalate scenes.

Like a coach's review of a football game, the system replays the scenario and the officer's response, showing where shots were fired and how fast they responded.

That feedback allows time for discussion on whether officers took the best action.

This isn't the first time local officers have had video simulator training equipment.

But Felt said the old system had about 40 scenarios and officers had memorized the scenes and knew what to expect.

This system, made by Ti Training Corp, will be updated throughout the year in response to current events. An update that's already been added since the equipment arrived in August includes a shooting situation at a church.

He said he wouldn't be surprised if a new scenario involving a shooter at a large music venue arrives in the future.

"A lot of these scenarios you never experience in real life and you hope you never have to," Felt said. "But this is a chance to try to work through those mentally beforehand."

Although expense would likely prohibit it, Felt said crews from the company could be brought to Willmar to film scenarios at local venues using local actors for an even closer real-life training.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750
Advertisement