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Virtual reality provides real world training for police

The training monitor shows what City of Warren Police Officer Alex Suppa sees as he fires on a hostage taker in an active shooter scenario during a training event Wednesday at Youngsville Volunteer Fire Department. The training was offered cooperatively by Northern Pennsylvania Regional College and Emergency Response Training and Certification Association.

During training exercises this week, Warren County law enforcement officers confronted a number of hazardous situations — several of them that could have involved the use of deadly force.

There was a confrontation with a difficult motorist who got out of his truck along a busy highway.

There was an active shooter incident in a school.

There was a domestic with a man armed with a baseball bat.

The virtual reality exercises were brought to Warren County as a cooperative rural law enforcement training agreement between the Northern Pennsylvania Regional College (NPRC) and the Emergency Response Training and Certification Association (ERTCA) of State College Tuesday and Wednesday at the Youngsville Volunteer Fire Department.

Times Observer photos by Brian Ferry City of Warren Police Officer Wade Suppa breaches a practice door during a training event Wednesday at Youngsville Volunteer Fire Department. The training was offered cooperatively by Northern Pennsylvania Regional College and Emergency Response Training and Certification Association.

ERTCA instructor Isaac Suydam was in control of how the virtual characters responded while fellow instructor Pat Whalen made sure the officers didn’t injure themselves or damage equipment while they were blind to the real world.

Each officer had a VR handgun and a VR taser available to them. One reportedly opted for VR mace.

It was not a test. When an officer completed a scenario, the program showed statistics about their performance — how many shots they fired — if any, how many hit “bad guys” and how many hit innocents. Suydam asked them questions about their response to the scenarios to help them think about how they might handle a similar real-life situation differently.

“These guys are getting an opportunity to run a scenario that’s as real as it can be without putting them into position to be injured or injure someone else,” ERTCA’s Mike Valine said. “They can see what they can do better. Being able to take this back into the field… that’s valuable.”

Several officers said the virtual reality was real enough to get their heart rates elevated for the training.

“It was an awesome experience,” City of Warren Police Officer Gary Doolittle said. “Very stressful. Working through the stress and managing that stress in these types of scenarios makes it more realistic. You have to simulate the stress to know how you’re going to react.”

“It was really beneficial,” City of Warren Police Officer Alex Suppa said.

Another officer was heard saying, “that’s about as real as it gets.”

The three-part training also included a basic forcible entry course where officers practiced breaking through a locked door.

The door offered different levels of difficulty.

Instructor Shawn Jones said it was important that officers practice and grow comfortable with such skills and develop muscle memory, just like they work on their firearms skills.

Valine worked with law enforcement on Stop the Bleed.

In the kinds of incidents officers regularly deal with, there is often “large amounts of bleeding,” he said.

Officers are trained in the use of the Stop the Bleed equipment they carry, but generally they are only trained to use it on others. “I focus more on how to administer to themselves,” Valine said.

An officer shot in the dominant arm may need to be able to apply a tourniquet with only their off hand to stop the bleeding.

The training was open to all Warren County law enforcement, according to NPRC’s Greg Triskett.

A total of 27 officers from the City of Warren, Youngsville Borough, Conewango Township, Warren County Sheriff’s Office, Warren County District Attorney’s Office, and Warren County Adult Probation went through the training.

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