Firearm Training Device Tests Lethal Decisions


You are a patrol officer. You are called to a scene where a man, holding a gun to his head, is threatening suicide.

He moves closer, waving his gun in the air.


Payson Police Sgt. Donny Garvin trains using the FATS machine. PPD invites the public to a FATS demonstration Saturday, July 30, beginning at 10 a.m.

A police officer's decision in the next few moments could mean life or death.

With the help of the Payson Police Department's new Firearms Training Simulator (FATS), officers will have better training to deal with these tense situations.

"It tests reaction time and it tests accuracy," police Sgt. Donny Garvin said. "If you are not reacting in a timely manner, they will fire at you."

The $65,000 FATS machine was purchased with money from the public safety bond passed in 2003.

Payson Police Commander Don Engler said FATS will help train officers to better handle tense and often life-threatening situations they face on the streets.

"It puts them in exactly the same type of situation they would be in," Engler said. "It helps make officers better equipped for those decisions when they present themselves."

For those interested in watching the new technology at work, the department is holding an open house July 30.

The FATS is similar to a life-sized, interactive video game in which the officer is given a scenario projected on a large screen.

The officer, armed with a gun, a taser and a can of pepper spray, must react to that situation.

Sitting behind the computer, the FATS operator, with the click of a mouse, can change the course of the scenario. The machine also reacts to the lasers in the gun, taser and spray, and the subject in the video responds accordingly.

Engler said five officers are certified to operate the FATS machine, which is capable of presenting 60 different situations and outcomes. The machine shows marks on the screen where gunshots hit, and whether the shot was lethal to the suspect or an innocent bystander.

"The officers' actions are then critiqued by the evaluator," Engler said. "They discuss the areas that were done well and those that need some improvement."

Engler said the evaluator can even determine whether the officer would have been killed or assaulted based on their reaction times.

As the choices of less-than-lethal weapons grow in the officer's arsenal, the split-second choices officers must make increases too.

Engler said FATS training covers every possible application of force currently available to the officer.

"Our policy now allows officers to work up and down the scale of force as the situation dictates," Engler said. "Things change in a split-second and an officer may have to go from a hand hold to deadly force."

Engler said the taser, which incapacitates a person by sending 50,000 volts of electricity through their body, has decreased injury to the officer as well as the suspect.

Those interested in attending the FATS open house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, July 30 at the Payson Police Department should call (928) 474-5242 ext. 209.

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