Police training going high tech
Sgt. Jeff Skuza separates police officers into two categories: those who use aggression and those who use solid politeness to control law offenders.
Skuza, sergeant and academy coordinator for the Fargo Police Department, would rather see more of the firm, compassionate sort.
That's why he is enthusiastic about the department's plan to buy a training tool called a simulator -- a high-tech, versatile set of computer equipment aimed at reproducing and engaging students in tricky, criminal scenarios.
The equipment will cost about $75,000 and will be entirely paid for by a federal grant, said Deputy Chief David Rogness.
"You can shout at paper targets all day," Skuza said. "All you can do is target practice."
With the simulator, students work together and alone to first try to diffuse difficult situations, then to forcefully protect themselves and others.
The way it works is as follows: Filmed scenarios, such as a man bludgeoning someone to death in his garage with a shovel, a man raping a woman, both equipped with weapons, a high risk police stop, or a residential suicide attempt, are projected onto a screen or wall.
"These are all things that have happened before" in Fargo, Skuza said.
The instructor sits at a control panel behind the students and determines how the scenario should proceed.
For example, if an instructor feels a student is being too aggressive, he or she can cause the offender to pull out a gun or knife. If the instructor feels the student is being too passive, the offender may run away, or continue beating an innocent victim.
Each of Fargo's 120 police officers has a different personality, Skuza said.
It is important for supervisors to evaluate how each of them handles stressful situations, he said.
During simulator exercises, students may use guns adapted to shoot lasers or airmunition -- blanks made to feel like real bullets when shot. A sensor machine on top of the projector records where and when shots are fired, as well as where students' muzzles are during the exercise.
Students may also use censor-detectable pepper spray and foam batons on the projection.
Police officers go through a minor training every three months, Skuza said.
Some officers have used the state's 10-year-old simulator that is shared between all state law enforcement agencies, Rogness said.
However, the machine is spread thin and officers and trainees don't get to use it enough, he said.
Having a separate simulator will enhance the quality and amount of training, he said.
Several different companies make simulators, and Fargo police instructors are currently deciding which one would best fit Fargo police officers.
The department will make the purchase at the end of February or early March.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Lisa Schneider at (701) 241-5529