- Associated Press - Saturday, June 20, 2015

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) - It looks like a real gun, feels like a real gun and sounds like a real gun as it fires at a man who’s charging forward and wielding a knife. But the man is only a projection on a screen, and there are no bullets flying from the firearm - the man and the gun are both part of a simulation used to train Newport News’ future police officers.

The simulator, called the MILO Range, belongs to ECPI University. As a public service, the school allowed Newport News police access to the MILO for no charge, said Craig Hughes, director of ECPI’s Criminal Justice Program.

Officers-in-training use the simulator to hone their skills with practice that complements their traditional police training.

“We take this training that we do (with the MILO) and combine that with what we teach out on the range with our actual duty weapons,” said Richard Thweatt, a master detective at the training academy.

The simulated training doesn’t replace any hands-on fieldwork or instruction, he said.

The simulator is housed in a classroom at ECPI University on Omni Boulevard in Newport News. One wall of the room contains a projector screen that displays filmed scenarios. Users have to react to what they see. Surround-sound speakers provide realistic audio, and cameras facing the user film both actions and reactions to the scenarios.

The MILO offers hundreds of scenarios. At a media event hosted by Newport News Police and ECPI on Monday morning, officers from the Newport News Police Training Academy demonstrated various exercises that involved talking down a belligerent man in a doctor’s office, shooters at a school and tracking down burglars in a dark stairwell.

It can display animated exercises that mimic a firing range or a target practice. Officers and trainees can also practice with other police equipment such as pepper spray and flashlights.

Real Glock handguns modified to have red handles are used with the system. The weapons shoot a laser rather than bullets.

Some situations don’t require the use of a weapon and have users practice vocalizing commands and talking through different situations. One of the main goals of using the simulator is to develop decision-making skills in officers-in-training so they understand when it is reasonable to use their weapons, according to a trainer at the academy.

“Drop the gun,” shouted Brad Churchill, a sergeant at the training academy. A masked robber, armed with a shotgun, rounded a corner on the screen. “Turn around and put your hands on top of your head.” The robber proceeded to follow the command.

Churchill then repeated the scenario, but the robber did not comply and began to point his gun forward. Churchill was forced to use his weapon and shoot the man.

Trainers have control over some of the scenarios and can dictate what plays out on the screen. Churchill explained that if the trainee is calm, the officer controlling the MILO can make the person in the simulation become calm.

“We can take a real-life situation we’ve encountered on the street, re-enact it.and then train them on that exact scenario,” Churchill said.

Although the MILO is reminiscent of arcade games, the training officers were clear that it was not a toy. Thweatt said the system is not a video game and that the trainees are told to treat situations as if they were real.

“It’s serious business,” said Churchill. “It’s going to bridge over to what they do on the street.”

Each exercise is followed by a debriefing period where the user is critiqued. Trainers provide feedback, and trainees can see how they performed on the video recorded by the system. Graphics show where they shot and the lethality of those shots.

Officers from the training academy have used ECPI’s MILO with their trainees for only two months, so no officers who were trained on the system are in action yet. But Newport News Police and ECPI are already talking about getting new equipment, said Churchill.

Potential additions include equipment and simulations for Tasers and batons. Churchill also mentioned purchasing guns that have air-powered recoil to mimic firing a bullet.

“We’re thrilled to support our officers in the community,” said ECPI Director of Communication David Brandt.

ECPI allows the police to use the simulator for no charge as a form of public service, Brandt said. Its Richmond and Virginia Beach campuses also have MILO Ranges that they allow local police to use.

Hughes said the Hampton Police Division and York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office also use ECPI’s MILO, and Hughes has invited four other jurisdictions to utilize the simulator.

“We want to make it as accessible as possible,” he said.

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Information from: Daily Press, http://www.dailypress.com/

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