Provincetown Banner – Realistic shooting scenarios help police train
By Pru Sowers – Fri Feb 20, 2009, 06:30 AM EST
PROVINCETOWN – “Drop the gun. Drop the gun now!”
Officer Robert Palheiro drew his weapon and pointed it at a teenager in a school hallway. Students were screaming and running away. As the teenager swirled around and pointed his gun at Palheiro, the Provincetown officer fired two quick shots. Instead of falling down, however, the youth froze, the lights came on and Palheiro turned to confer with a firearms instructor about his response. Was it necessary? Was his use of force justified?
The instructor then pushed the “play” button on the video deck to continue the scene. The student immediately fired several shots at the place where Palheiro would have stood if the scene were real. As it was, it was a simulated training tape. But if it was real and Palheiro hadn’t fired his weapon, he would in all likelihood be dead.
“It’s extremely useful,” he said after the training exercise. “This is about as lifelike as you can get. Hopefully, if this ever happens, you won’t have to second guess what you should or should not have done.”
The entire Provincetown police force was scheduled to take the same test as Palheiro this week. The officers reported to an unmarked tractor-trailer parked in the airport employee parking lot Monday and Tuesday. There, they loaded special bullets into their personal firearms and went through a series of videotaped scenarios where they were called on to quickly decide how to deal with potentially dangerous situations. Their response and timing were then assessed by a team of firearms instructors.
The trailer was lined with thick padding and the bullets disintegrated when they hit the wall. The videos were projected on a white sheet that showed several bullet holes after the end of a session.
“It’s not a video game,” said Provincetown Police Sgt. Jim Golden, the department’s firearms instructor. “It’s a tool. We want to give them the best skill set that we can because, God forbid, they ever have to use those skills.”
The mobile firearms training range is rented for two days each year for $1,000 a day to train officers in “shoot/no shoot” scenarios. Some of the video scenes involve students with guns, one dealt with a disgruntled customer at an auto repair shop. And another showed a loud domestic disturbance in progress where a third person entered the room holding a gun. Palheiro shouted at the woman to put her gun down while training his own weapon on the video screen. It was one of those close calls where an untrained reporter would have fired. However, Palheiro correctly judged the situation and held off. As the video unfolded, the woman put her gun down without firing a shot.
“It offers excellent training on timing, threat evaluation and decision-making skills,” Chief Jeff Jaran said. “It puts officers in real-life scenarios. A shooting range doesn’t offer this type of simulation.”
“[The firing range] gives me the ability to add a little stress. I can add lights. I can add noise. It times an officer’s response and lets them see what their marksmanship is under stress,” Golden said.
This is the fourth year the mobile range has been used in Provincetown and is part of the annual firearms training requirement for each officer. Each one-hour session allows an officer to work through eight to 12 different video scenarios with a debriefing after each with a range officer.
“It’s realistic training and useful training, a little bit outside the pale. I like to think it keeps them engaged,” Golden said.