Park Ridge police training a virtual world of quick decision-making
Pioneer Press reporter Jennifer Johnson experiences the scenario of a hostage situation during a Park Ridge Police Department training simulation. | Michael Schmidt~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 30, 2012 6:03AM
PARK RIDGE — I really didn’t want to shoot the little girl.
But she just kept waving that rifle around.
It was probably a good thing my gun suddenly wasn’t working properly. And that she hadn’t already taken a shot at me.
And that this was only a police training simulation, the child an actor in a virtual video.
As part of their normal law enforcement duties Park Ridge Police may not face gun-toting children who pop out of cars during the execution of a parent’s arrest warrant, but armed suspects and potentially dangerous situations can — and sometimes do — occur in the city. Just last year Park Ridge officers encountered a man walking around a Northwest Highway gas station with a loaded gun on his hip. Officers, relying on training much like the kind I took part in this month, were ready to shoot if the situation had escalated and people were in harm’s way.
On Nov. 5 Park Ridge Deputy Police Chief Lou Jogmen and Sgt. Eric Hilderbrant allowed me to try out the Meggitt Training System, computer equipment that simulates real-life police scenarios where an officer might need to use force when dealing with a perpetrator. The system comes with a modified Glock 19 pistol (no bullets, obviously), but it sounds — and feels — just like a gun when fired and a laser can identify the trajectory of the virtual bullet on the video screen. It told me I’m not such a bad shot.
In addition to providing police with real-life scenarios, the Meggitt system is a tool to teach officers when use of force is legally justifiable, Hilderbrant explained. But police are also taught that their gun is not the only — or even the best — weapon they have.
“The most important tools that they have are keeping a calm head and using verbal commands,” Hilderbrant said. “We don’t want them to be overly reliant on just the handgun.”
Talking calmly to an agitated suspect, for example, can help diffuse a situation. This is the type of scenario I encountered when “responding” to a call of an armed man who had taken a police officer hostage. Obviously in this case shooting at the suspect wasn’t a good option because it would mean likely hurting — or killing — the police officer who was being used as human shield.
In another scenario, in which Jogmen took part, an intoxicated man, ignoring the officer’s commands to show his hands, pretended to pull out a gun. But his actions, for an instant, were alarming. (In another simulation the man actually does take out a real gun and shoots the officer).
The Meggitt system is completely interactive so that if you shoot at an armed suspect and your aim is right, he or she will fall down. The training officer at the computer can control each scenario depending on the type of action the trainee takes.
“Their actions will be rewarded with the proper response if they do the right thing,” Jogmen said.
In my case with the hostage-taker, calmly speaking to the man led to him putting down his gun and letting the hostage go. He was then taken safely into custody.
“What’s nice about this is they can make mistakes on here and we can go back and review it and say, ‘Why did you do that? What was your reason to justify doing what you did?’” Hilderbrant said. “While we’re doing (the training) we’re reinforcing their understanding of the law, their understanding of the policy and their understanding of what they can and can’t do legally.”
The Meggitt Training System is on loan to the Park Ridge Police Department for a few weeks each year. It is made available through the department’s paid membership in the North East Multi-Regional Training organization. NEMRT also offers training classes for police officers in a variety of different areas.
“You truly do perform the way you practice and train,” Jogmen said.