by Connie Sartini
Members of the Groton Police Department spent last week testing their skills in a unique mobile simulator training center, where real life scenarios give officers the opportunity to practice their responses to a variety of serious situations that can occur at night, inside buildings, in crowds, at vehicle stops, with individuals in crisis, in domestic disputes and other low visibility or high- risk incidents.
Middlesex Sheriff ’s Office Mobile Training Center (MTC) is a portable, self-contained, firearms trailer, which allows officers to train on live-action, interactive scenarios, utilizing their own firearms and live ammunition. Because the scenarios are interactive, officers must simultaneously work on their communication skills, unlike in traditional firearms training. This also includes use of force training, verbal, taser and use of force. This Middlesex Sheriff’s Office Mobil Training Center is the only one of its kind. Groton’s Chief of Police Michael Luth said, “Having the dynamic interactive scenario base training is valuable for not just the physical tactics but the decision making skills as well.”
Purchased by the Middlesex Sheriff’s Office in 2010, the MTC went into service in 2011 and has been used by municipal police departments across the county ever since. Thanks to its mobility, MSO officers are able to transport MTC to local jurisdictions so officers can train in their communities while on duty, thereby cutting down or eliminating the need for overtime.
The armor-plated trailer allows officers to use the same firearms and ammunition they keep with them every day out in the field, but instead of simply firing at a piece of paper with an outline on it at a basement shooting range, the rear wall of the trailer displays videos depicting various scenarios that are controlled by a Middlesex Sheriff deputy at a computer terminal at the front of the trailer.
The scenarios can require an officer to fire his weapon into the self-healing rubber screen, backed by thick padding and a steel plate or if the officer uses his communication skills effectively, the scenario can be changed mid- video and have the virtual suspect lay down his or her firearm, negating the need for lethal force.
Because live ammunition is used, Middlesex Sheriff Peter J. Koutoujian advised that Clean Harbors decontaminates the unit and removes the lead to address any environmental concerns.
Sheriff Koutoujian said he has spent time in Israel where he observed scenario-based training for handling of terrorist attacks, stressing that it allows for immediate feedback on what went well and what needed improvement.
He added that decision making is critical in responding to scenarios such as a domestic shooting and the efforts at communication to get the shooter to put down the gun or in assessing the danger when there is a person in a school bathroom, determining whether they want to shoot themselves or to harm others.
Groton Police Officer and Instructor Gordon Candow stressed the importance of using the tools that officers have as well as the emotional climate. Your heartrate is up, but you have to think outside the box,” he said. “These are scenarios appropriate to Groton, and the interpersonal communications are important when talking to a person.”
Middlesex Sheriff ’s Officer and trainer, Officer Frank Reid, detailed the program. In the rear of the training unit, there is a control area where the scenarios are staged and adjusted. Skills are tested to de-escalate a situation. Officers are trained in very realistic scenarios. They receive instant feedback on their performance and are able to see the results of effective communication. This system also allows them to practice de- escalation techniques. Officer Reid noted that it is very important to use the brain as well in these exercises.
Officer Candow was the officer in the demonstration of an angry individual in the lobby of a building who was banging on doors. When the officer arrived, the individual challenged him, yelling and refusing to leave.
The officer stepped behind a small partition, and when the individual pulled a weapon, the officer continued to talk to him, telling him that he would get him the help he needed, and, finally, the individual dropped his weapon and talked to the officer.
During the demonstration, the control operator could adjust the video to have several different actions from the angry individual.
Most importantly, the scenarios require officers to call on the totality of their training and experience in an attempt to resolve situations peacefully. In all scenarios a heavy emphasis is placed on effective communication. Groton Police Department was joined by members from the Lunenburg and Pepperell Police Departments for the training.
With the popularity of this program, there currently is a six-month wait list for the Middlesex Sheriff ’s Office MTC services. Chief Luth added, “The collaboration with Sheriff Koutoujian makes this kind of training possible for communities our size.”