WILLMAR — The Willmar Police Department recently invited lawmakers and other members of the public to try the department's use-of-force simulator which officers use in their training.
The computer system, purchased in 2018 for about $12,000, plays various scenarios on a full-size screen and officers must make use-of-force decisions ranging from verbal commands to use of pepper spray, a Taser and even a firearm.
While the system allows for the use of firearms, Willmar Police Chief Jim Felt said the system is not a shooting simulator.
"This is about decision-making," Felt said.
The department uses the simulator as part of its annual continuous training required by the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training.
While the POST board requires only 16 hours of training a year, the department currently has 20 hours of training already clocked for the year and expects to be closer to 30 hours by the year's end.
"We spend a lot of time on training here," Willmar Police Capt. Michael Anderson said. "That's important for the public and for us."
The simulator allows officers to run through more than 800 different scenarios, from workplace shootings and burglaries to calls for a suicidal person. It also can accommodate multiple officers going through a single scenario at a time.
A trainer controls the computer system and can adjust what happens based on how an officer responds to what's on the screen.
For example, a scenario that starts at a high tempo can be brought down to a safe conclusion if an officer uses proper de-escalation techniques.
After each scenario, trainers and officers will talk about what happened and why the officer or officers did what they did.
State Rep. Dave Baker, whose District 17B encompasses Willmar, along with Rep. Tim Miller, District 17A, were present Sept. 16 to test the simulator and learn more about the tools officers use to train, like Taser stun guns, protective equipment and non-lethal ammunition. Called simunition, the paintball-type ammo can be loaded in a handgun designed for the ammo or in their duty rifles for more realistic training.
Baker said that officers don't always know what they're going into and that he thought the simulator was impressive.
"What I love about our police department is we have a positive collaborative effort," Baker said. "They help you learn from mistakes."
During the first nine months of 2020, out of about 14,000 calls for service, 399 required some type of use of force. Out of the 399 times use of force was required, 182 were putting handcuffs on someone, 94 were giving a verbal direction and 43 were considered soft-hand control, which is considered a non-forceful movement of someone or their appendages.
Often, displaying a weapon is enough to gain compliance.
For example, while a Taser has been displayed 20 times this year, it has been deployed only four times.
A rifle was displayed 11 times but has not been used this year and a handgun has been displayed 30 times with one fired during a May incident. In that incident, an officer had been stabbed multiple times and the suspect had been stunned with a Taser at least twice before being shot and killed. The injured officer survived her injuries.
"I think (police) should be thanked for what they do," Baker said. "We're blessed to have a city that supports police."