Cadets Gunned Down By Computer Simulator

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by Jerry Thebado

roundup editor

I knew the warehouse was supposed to be empty that night. I knew when I arrived that there wasn't supposed to be anyone inside.

Yet, when I approached the man attempting to jimmy a door, my mind went blank ... a mistake that ultimately led to my death.

Last week's Citizens Police Academy dealt with weapons how to shoot them, how to respect them, and how and when to use them to save your life. The academy is a joint venture of the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the Payson Police Department designed to increase public awareness of law enforcement.

The officer's lifeline

While officers set up the equipment for our firearms training, cadets learned about the police officer's link to the world the police dispatcher.

On the average shift, a dispatcher will do a little bit of everything, communications supervisor Irma Bramlet said. That became obvious as we watched dispatcher Joanie Varga handle a dozen different things at once.

During the Thursday night shift, Varga simultaneously checked on her officers' whereabouts, took a report on the phone from a man being stalked by his girlfriend, and handled the average telephone calls that flood the Payson Police Department. She did all this while taking questions from the handful of curious cadets who watched her every move.

"It's a fun job," Varga said. "It's something different every day."

Besides being an expert in multi-tasking, a dispatcher candidate must pass a series of tests before becoming a full-fledged dispatcher.

"Candidates are given a written test, then a multi-skills test to test their keyboard skills, their short-term memory, their dexterity," Support Services Manager Della Bradley said.

If the candidate passes all of those, then they go through an oral interview, then background checks which includes polygraph and psychological tests.

"Then they go through three months of training, which includes 40 hours of book instruction," Bramlet said. "The remainder of the time, they spend with a trainer."

"Stop, or I'll shoot!"

Kenny Woodward of Caswell Shooters in Mesa, owner of the Firearms Training Simulator (FATS), briefed cadets on what to expect when confronted with one of the computers' lifelike, real-time criminals.

The FATS simulator puts officers up against a variety of scenarios dealing with bad guys.

In my particular scenario, I was told that, as a police officer, I was to search an empty warehouse where suspicious activity had been reported. Woodward instructed me on the workings of the simulation Glock handgun, and the flashlight that I would use in my search.

During my search of the warehouse, I encountered a scruffy looking man working the lock of one of the inner doors.

"Police! Show me your hands!" I shouted at the suspect. The suspect turned, startled, and informed me that I scared him. After an exchange of a few words, I was distracted at the real-time simulation the frighteningly convincing image I was interacting with and that's when it happened: The crook slowly pulled a gun on me and fired one shot. It was then, and only then, that I jumped to action and fired twice.

Too late.

I had been fatally wounded, while my shots soared at least three feet above my suspect's head.

End of simulation.

When asked why I reacted so slowly, I attempted humor by saying that I was a pacifist. In truth, I was mortified that my one chance at testing my mettle against an armed suspect ended tragically.

It was of little comfort that I learned that many of my comrades had suffered the same fate. I guess we all could use a few more lessons with weapons lessons we received Saturday morning at the shooting range.

One last shot

Cadets showed up at the Payson Police Department at 8 a.m. for a crash course in weapons from DPS Sgt. John Whetten a man who, if his colleagues are to be believed, could shoot the eye out of a rattlesnake at 200 paces.

Whetten, DPS Officer Rich Alvarez and Payson Sgt. Rod Mamero spent the better part of an hour regaling us with heart-stopping horror stories of why one must treat weapons with the utmost respect.

With those stories fresh in our minds, we headed to the shooting range, where cadets were offered a chance to fire a shotgun, an M-16, and a variety of handguns.

Borrowing Sgt. Whetten's handgun, I had another chance to see if I could hit the broad side of a barn. Out of five shots, I hit the larger targets four times. When it came to the smaller targets, the barn's broad side was winning. Then Whetten reminded me how to correctly line up my target with the front sight of the gun. I followed his advice, and was able to hit the tiny metal target.

At last, I had redeemed myself. I felt confident that the next time I came up against an armed computer-simulated bandit, I might stand a better chance of survival. book instruction," Bramlet said. "The remainder of the time, they spend with a trainer."

"Stop, or I'll shoot!"

Kenny Woodward of Caswell Shooters in Mesa, owner of the Firearms Training Simulator (FATS), briefed cadets on what to expect when confronted with one of the computer's lifelike, real-time criminals.

The FATS simulator puts officers up against a variety of scenarios dealing with bad guys.

In my particular scenario, I was told that, as a police officer, I was to search an empty warehouse where suspicious activity had been reported. Woodward instructed me on the workings of the simulation Glock handgun, and the flashlight that I would use in my search.

During my search of the warehouse, I encountered a scruffy-looking man working the lock of one of the inner doors.

"Police! Show me your hands!" I shouted at the suspect. The suspect turned, startled, and informed me that I scared him. After an exchange of a few words, I was distracted at the real-time simulation the frighteningly convincing image I was interacting with and that's when it happened: The crook slowly pulled a gun on me and fired one shot. It was then, and only then, that I jumped to action and fired twice.

Too late.

I had been fatally wounded, while my shots soared at least three feet above my suspect's head.

End of simulation.

When asked why I reacted so slowly, I attempted humor by saying that I was a pacifist. In truth, I was mortified that my one chance at testing my mettle against an armed suspect ended tragically.

It was of little comfort that I learned that many of my comrades had suffered the same fate. I guess we all could use a few more lessons with weapons lessons we received Saturday morning at the shooting range.

One last shot

Cadets showed up at the Payson Police Department at 8 a.m. for a crash course in weapons from DPS Sgt. John Whetten a man who, if his colleagues are to be believed, could shoot the eye out of a rattlesnake at 200 paces.

Whetten, DPS Officer Rich Alvarez and Payson Sgt. Rod Mamero spent the better part of an hour regaling us with heart-stopping horror stories of why one must treat weapons with the utmost respect.

With those stories fresh in our minds, we headed to the shooting range, where cadets were offered a chance to fire a shotgun, an M-16, and a variety of handguns.

Borrowing Sgt. Whetten's handgun, I had another chance to see if I could hit the broad side of a barn. Out of five shots, I hit the larger targets four times. When it came to the smaller targets, the barn's broad side was winning. Then Whetten reminded me how to correctly line up my target with the front sight of the gun. I followed his advice, and was able to hit the tiny metal target.

At last, I had redeemed myself. I felt confident that the next time I came up against an armed computer-simulated bandit, I might stand a better chance of survival.

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