Virtual training center puts Camas officers in life-or death situations

By John Branton, Columbian Staff Reporter

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photoAfter a session, Camas Police officers Henry Scott, left, and Tim Fellows, right, have their performance reviewed by system operator Josh Detar.

(/The Columbian)

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TUALATIN, Ore. -- “Hands! Show me your hands!”

Two Camas police officers shout while standing on a $300,000 training stage, their modified Glock 17 semiautomatic pistols aimed at a computer-generated, and possibly armed, man.

The man on the screen was holding one hand up but refusing to show his other hand.

Does he have a gun in the hidden hand? Should the officers shoot him or not?

The officers are essentially back to back because the five-screen, 300-degree virtual sound and video stage nearly encircles them. Lethal problems can happen in front or behind them, and on both sides.

The dangerous characters on the screens shoot at the officers, and sometimes hit them, and charge them with knives.

One after another, the computer played its wickedly difficult scenarios. In one, a gunman is loose in a school, with wounded students lying in the hall.

“Where is the gunman? What does he look like?” an officer asks a fleeing, frantic teacher.

Suddenly the gunman emerges from a door with a shotgun and both officers open fire. The man falls without firing his gun.

Eight members of the Camas Police Department came to Threat Dynamics for three-hour training sessions on Wednesday night. They worked in pairs.

As the officers fired the modified, laser-shooting pistols, carbon dioxide cylinders inside the guns provided some recoil. Their shots were made to sound real as they issued from loud speakers.

The scenarios? You name it. The company says there are more than 400.

They included crooks hiding behind hostages, with guns to their hostage’s heads.

A man came at them with a crowbar, and another with a knife.

A man yelled, “I’ll take your life, pig!”

The software is made using footage of real people and weaving them into the scenarios. A big man with long black hair, dressed like an outlaw biker, figured into some of the action. At one point, he came out of a door holding a cardboard box that concealed a firearm.

Death always lurking

Sitting just outside the arena , employee Josh Detar was watching and listening, and recording each scenario on a computer.

When the officers ended their sessions, they gathered intently around Detar for debriefing. His computer screen showed playbacks and data such as how many shots each officer fired, who and where each bullet hit and how lethal such gunfire would be.

The Glock 17s hold 16 rounds in the magazines and one in the firing chamber.

It’s essential to leave a round in the chamber before dropping a magazine and snapping in another, Debar said.

That way they can fire once during reloading.

The Camas officers were very good at reloading quickly.

Some of the officers also wore 5,000-volt belts that zapped them when they were hit.

“It felt like a rubber band snap,” one officer said.

Besides yelling orders to possibly armed people, the officers should also speak to each other, Detar said.

Even if it’s just a woman with a baby carriage, your partner needs to know, he added.

In a situation where death can come from anywhere, Detar advised the officers to move around, turn their heads and pay attention to their peripheral vision.

But in sweeping a scene while aiming their gun, they must never point the pistol at their partner. Officers in situations like this can avoid that by turning away from their partner or holding their pistols pointed at the ground.

Inspired by military

Ryan Tuttle, 28 and owner of the business, said he served in the U.S. Army in Iraq and was inspired by advanced military training technology, such as the $300,000, five-screen system he now uses.

After leaving the military, “I kind of kept this in the back of my mind,” he said.

He started his company about three years ago, first in Hillsboro, Ore., before moving to the Tualatin warehouse his company occupies now.

He sells guns and gun equipment and makes and sells live ammunition, though none is used in his training. He also carries survival and self-defense products.

Tuttle said he’s trained police and military officials, but at least 75 percent of his customers are ordinary citizens.

His customers can shoot in a standard target range area, as well as one-screen and five-screen settings.

In dealing with the scenarios, he said, “Most of the people get a bit worked up.”

For more information, call 503-692-2992 or visit http://www.threatdynamics.com.

John Branton: 360-735-4513 or john.branton@columbian.com.