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Aiken Public Safety uses simulator to train officers about ‘use of force’

April 20, 2018

Most will never get to experience what it’s like to be a police officer in an intense, real-world situation involving an armed suspect, where their adrenaline kicks in and pulse starts racing.

In the past, the only way for a police officer to truly know what to do during any type of situation was to learn through real-world experience.

The Aiken Department of Public Safety has been training officers, new and seasoned, in a training simulation over the past week, which offers different real-world scenarios where officers must make quick decisions and determine whether to use force.

“The simulator has over 700 scenarios to choose from that an officer might experience in real life,” said Lt. Jake Mahoney, with Aiken Public Safety, who has been training officers using the simulator. “It’s important for officers to do this in a controlled setting to learn when and when not to use force.”

The $50,000 simulator is on loan to Aiken Public Safety from the Municipal Association of South Carolina in Columbia.

Prior to entering the simulation, Mahoney goes over “use of force” with the class and gives examples of different scenarios.

“There’s more than one way to approach an issue,” he said. “It’s important to use different approaches. There’s no reason to go into a situation using extreme force for no reason.”

Mahoney also explained how some suspects will do things to annoy officers, such as not cooperate. He said it’s important for officers keep total control of the situation and not to let their emotions take over.

“When we respond to resistance with anger, we’re losing sight of what’s reasonable,” he said. “In a real-world situation, officers will have a body camera recording the whole incident from start to finish. These recordings will be used in courts, and that’s how they are going to judge us.”

Mahoney said there are three basic questions an officer must ask themselves when going into any situation:

• How serious is the offense?

• What is the immediate physical threat?

• Is the subject actively resisting or attempting to evade arrest by flight?

The way the simulation works is, the lights are turned off and a brief description of what is getting ready to take place is given to the officer.

Then, the officer must react to the scenario that comes on the screen. The officer has no idea what is going to happen.

A suspect may appear, pull a weapon or pull out their wallet.

Once the simulation is done, Mahoney goes over the scenario and asks the officer questions about what happened and why they did what they did.

“If an officer shoots someone – they are going to have to explain exactly what happened to lead to them using deadly force,” Mahoney said.

Some of the scenarios have officers deal with a mentally ill or disturbed person.

These kind of scenarios are important because officers need to understand different techniques when it comes to dealing with someone who is mentally ill, or disturbed, Mahoney said.

“There is no need to use excessive force when the individual is only a danger to themselves,” Mahoney said. “Somebody holding a gun, or knife, to their chest – they’re only a threat to themselves. It’s only when they turn the weapon toward the officer and start moving in their general direction that the threat changes. These scenarios force officers to make decisions quickly.”

Sgt. Matt Comer, with Aiken Public Safety, went through the simulator Thursday afternoon and said he has been with the agency for several years.

“It’s very realistic,” Comer said. “It’s a lot of what we really see out there.”

Mahoney said he hopes the agency can acquire its own simulator in the future and give all new officers a chance to go through these scenarios in their training.

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