Acworth Police: Matters of life and death

Moderated by Rick Badie

The Acworth Police Department has added a new tool to its traditional training program — a firearms simulator. It offers more than 500 scenarios of what sworn officers or detention personnel might encounter when responding to a varied number of incidents. I write about my experience trying out the “use-of-force” simulator, while Acworth’s police chief explains the importance of implementing the technology.

Matters of life and death

By Rick Badie

Picture this scenario: A police officer responds to a radio dispatch about suspicious after-hours activity in a warehouse facility. Flashlight in hand, he enters the building, and suddenly a man pops up from behind a desk. He gets agitated about the flashlight shining in his face and that the officer repeatedly asks for identification.

Suddenly he yells, “Here’s my identification,” and pulls something from his side.

The scenario is one of 550 that’s preloaded in a firearms simulator system recently purchased by the Acworth Police Department. City officials used drug money to buy the $40,000 interactive training system from TI Training, a Colorado-based company that specializes in instructive hardware and software.

When I read online about Acworth’s new training tool, I contacted Police Chief Wayne Dennard.

“I have two simple philosophies,” Dennard told me, “and they work well for us: Just spend time in the community and do what’s right. That pretty much covers it. We are not going to put up with excessive use of force. We don’t play those games. And we won’t. But there’s always room to grow.”

The firearms simulator allows you to have actual conversations with actors in the scenarios, just as police officers would on the streets. Only you interact through a projector screen. Everything’s authentic. The weapons are modified Glock 22s, an assault rifle and a shotgun. The system also uses non-lethal weapons.

Last Thursday, Dennard and Capt. Mark Cheatham demonstrated the system and allow me to experience it as well.

In one scenario, Dennard responded to a domestic disturbance. He approaches the front door and hears a woman scream. He looks through the window, where he encounters the husband, who turns and raises a shotgun towards the chief. The chief opens fire. A replay of the encounter pinpoints where three of Dennard’s shots landed.

My scenario was the lead to this column — the cop who encounters a man in a warehouse after hours. The man whips out what turns out to be a commercial stapler gun. He aims it as if it’s a weapon. I fire back, striking his kneecap.

Had these been actual training sessions, a debriefing would take place immediately thereafter.

“The real training happens after it is over, when we can sit down and evaluate what happens,” Cheatham said. “This classroom is a safe place to make mistakes. It’s a safe place to make mistakes and learn from. All these scenarios are not about an officer having to go out and kill somebody. They are about training officers on their day-to-day jobs, their responsibilities.”

Valuable police training in Acworth

By Wayne Dennard

Nearly one year ago, the Acworth Police Department moved into our new headquarters knowing the space would open up new opportunities for state-of-the-art training. We have a dedicated training room that has been the home of our Citizens’ Police Academy and other civilian and law enforcement training classes, but in September, we began using new, cutting-edge training equipment that would not have been possible in our old headquarters.

Using funds seized from drug dealers, we purchased a use-of-force training simulator from TI Training. The simulator uses an LCD projector to project life-sized scenarios on the wall. The scenarios range from active shooter situations to simple, non-violent disputes that require little or no police interaction. Officers are faced with choosing what level of force, if any, is necessary in each exercise. Many scenarios can be customized or changed so officers do not become complacent or have foreknowledge of the outcome of each situation.

The simulated situations can be frightening, jarring and quite realistic. The realism can catch even a seasoned, veteran officer off guard. The simulated scenes were filmed with skilled actors and Hollywood-level special effects. The weapons and tools used are real weapons that have been converted for use with the simulator. Everything looks and feels real. All of our officers will have the opportunity to train with the system. It will give them the opportunity to make mistakes and correct those mistakes in a safe environment — something not possible with other types of use-of-force training.

In addition to being an excellent training tool, it is one officers will be able to use more often than traditional training classes. Having more opportunities to train is invaluable; as the saying goes, practice makes perfect. While we may never be perfect, the more opportunities we have to practice, the closer we will be.

This training simulator is a key piece of equipment that fits into our training program and enriches the program as a whole. It will be useful to our officers and the community. We pride ourselves on being a department that is transparent and involved in our community. We want our citizens to understand our thought processes and feel safe knowing we are there to protect them and lay down our lives to do so, if necessary.

When citizens have the opportunity to work with the simulator, they will have a better understanding why officers make the split-second decisions they do. Allowing students who participate in our community programming, such as our Citizens’ Police Academy or our upcoming Trends in Law Enforcement classes, to experience the simulator will help create clarity where there is sometimes confusion.

We have a state-of-the-art training program, excellent equipment, the right community policing philosophy and everything a 21st century police department needs to be successful. But most importantly, we have time dedicated to training our officers. Time is priceless. We dedicate much more than the state-required training time, because training helps our officers develop the experience to make the best decisions in any situation.

I am especially pleased to have the opportunity to share this training with our community. Our community philosophy is simple: Spending time and doing what is right equals trust. I am proud of the relationship community policing has created in Acworth. It has made our city safer and our police department stronger. We are all pieces of a greater puzzle, and the more we work together to achieve our common goals, the more successful we will be as a whole.

Wayne Dennard is the Acworth police chief.

 


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