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Laser Beams Replace Bullets For Police Training

August 3, 1986

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) _ Instead of expensive live ammunition, many police trainees fire harmless, low-energy laser beams that show if they’ve hit the target.

The new training aids are made possible by a small number of companies that adapt conventional weapons such as pistols, rifles or machine guns to fire laser beams that simulate the trajectories of real bullets.

The industry, an offshoot of military simulation devices developed in the 1970s, got started less than five years ago. It will generate an estimated $175 million in sales this year, industry officials say.

Among the firms is Schwartz Electro-Optics of Orlando, which began operations 27 months ago with two people.

This year, SEO employs almost 50 people and expects to sell $3 million worth of custom battery-powered laser systems that can be fitted onto weapons or slipped into barrels. It also makes laser-activated targets, including vests and caps, that can flash a light or beep when hit by the laser’s light beam.

″The systems prevent unnecessary risks and save a lot of money otherwise spent on live ammunition at a time when it’s more and more important for police officers to learn tactics and procedures,″ says company official Hal Grossman.

About 85 percent of SEO’s business is with government agencies. The Secret Service, FBI, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, the Department of Energy’s nuclear reactor security force and about 50 police departments around the country use the company’s Lasertrain II.

″It’s a step closer to realism,″ says Lt. John Daddysman, weapons range master for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. He helped SEO develop its system.

″Nobody has yet figured out how to put the actual stress (of a firefight) on a police officer into a training program,″ he said. ″But the lasers have helped considerably.

″For a beginner, it’s a good training aid. It lets them understand immediately what they’re doing wrong.″

Daddysman noted that 1,000 rounds of handgun ammunition cost about $60.

The local sheriff’s department requires officers to test their live- shooting proficiency on the range every three months, while other departments require it every six months or once a year.

″With this system, they can have their people train every morning if they want to,″ Grossman said.

Fire training officer James D. Slack of the Metro-Dade Police Department in Miami likes the Lasertrain. But he has some reservations about how it is sometimes used.

″The guys tend to empty their weapons when they shoot because it’s so easy to do,″ he says. ″And the tendency once they get ‘hit’ is ‘Well, you got me, I’m dead.’ Just because you’re hit shouldn’t mean the firefight is over. You may be only slightly wounded and can continue.″

But those aren’t faults of the system, he said. ″We get basically good results. A lot depends on setting up a good scenario with it. You have to be creative and not just say ’Here it is, go ahead and use it.‴

Some weapons training centers are using simulators that link lasers with video-recordings of real situations to sharpen officers’ judgments on when - and when not - to shoot.

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