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In virtual shootings, cops’ decisions could be difference between carnage and survival

Miami cops prepare for mass shootings with new VR technology

Police in Miami, Florida,+ practice what to do in mass shootings with a new virtual reality technology that creates lifelike training scenarios. How officers react changes the high-definition simulation’s results.
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Police in Miami, Florida,+ practice what to do in mass shootings with a new virtual reality technology that creates lifelike training scenarios. How officers react changes the high-definition simulation’s results.

The officers stood, guns ready. They’d entered a high school with a live shooter. To their right, a dead student lay face down on the floor. To the left, a woman was shot and killed as she sat on a couch. Then someone wearing a black coat and carrying a rifle appeared in the hallway in front of them.

Orders to drop his weapon were disobeyed. Three blasts from their weapons and he was dead. Suddenly, another shooter appeared on the left. Both officers turned and fired. The second shooter was killed, too.

The above scenario wasn’t real. Instead, it played out on a live interactive high-definition screen at a training center for Miami police — just like it has for dozens of other police departments in South Florida and around the nation in the wake of so many high-profile mass and active shootings.

But this demonstration was different. These officers were testing out the newest wave of live interactive situations. This machine was outfitted with technology that allows a life-like 360-degree training sequence and, most significantly, permits instructors working the operation board to change up the scenario based on an officer’s reactions.

Let your guard down and you could be killed. De-escalate the scene with calming words and the suspect could lay down his or her weapon. A couple of times during the training session, guns jammed and the outcome turned bad, highlighting just how difficult it can be to put down an active shooter in real time.

“We’re always looking for better ways to prepare our officers,” Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina said during Tuesday’s demonstration. “How the officer responds dictates the scenario.”

Miami police are testing out a virtual training system called the FATS 300LE. It’s composed of five borderless white screens playing out in high definition, complete with surround sound. It’s a step up from older systems with less realistic displays and far less control over confrontation scenarios.

“It’s the next evolution,” said the vendor, Jay Ayala. “The instructor controls how the video goes based on the cop’s response.”

Miami is the second police department in the country to test out the system. Only police in Gwinnett County, Ga., have tested it so far. The city won’t be charged during the testing phase. Purchasing the FATS 300LE would cost about $120,000. But Miami could lease it at a lower fee. Or buy it and charge other departments for training to cut down on the cost.

During one of the scenarios at the training site on Tuesday, Miami police officer and training instructors Luis Gonzalez and Yolanda Jones were confronted by a student holding another student hostage in a school cafeteria. With one of the students kneeling and the other holding a gun at his side, Gonzalez repeatedly told the potential shooter to put the weapon down.

When he instead pointed the weapon at his temple, Gonzalez said, “No, don’t do that either. Think about your family.” The gun-wielding student then slowly placed the gun on the ground.

“That’s good,” said Gonzalez. “We’ll get you some help.”

The scene ended.

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