Tuesday, February 21, 2023

My Performance on a Police Use of Force Training Simulator Pt 1

I recently had the opportunity to train on a sophisticated police use of force training simulator and completed several law enforcement-themed scenarios. The scenarios included domestic disturbances, drug-related incidents, a robbery at a convenience store, and several active killer incidents. It was an interesting experience and I was satisfied with my performance overall since I did not get shot in any of the scenarios. However, in some of the scenarios I did not act quickly enough to stop the perpetrator from other harming others.

Police electronic training simulators or ETSs help prepare law enforcement officers for real-life incidents using realistic scenarios that demand critical decisions in tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving situations. The training scenarios in the simulations had real actors and extensive branching options that reacted to the participant’s verbal commands, decisions, movement, or other actions. The branches allowed the incident to unfold based on the instructor’s or the participant’s decisions. The ETS detected where the participant was pointing their pistol’s muzzle and required precise marksmanship.

I experienced tunnel vision in one scenario. The scenario had me walking around a blind corner toward the entrance to a convenience store. Suddenly a young man runs from the convenience store straight toward me. When he sees me, he immediately raises his empty hands in a surrender position and lays down on the ground without any command from me (since it was an LEO scenario, I presume I was in a “virtual” police uniform and that explained his actions).

An instant later another man in street clothes runs from the store with a pistol in hand pointed at the ground. I draw and challenge the individual to drop his gun whereupon the individual produces a badge and identifies himself as a police officer. As I am staring at the badge, I do not see the individual on the ground roll over and produce a pistol. It wasn’t until he pointed it at the plain clothes police officer that I first became aware of this individual’s actions—I was too late, he fired at the officer. As the individual on the ground turned his pistol to shoot me, I shot him in the head ending the scenario.

During this scenario I experienced a form of inattentional blindness — a temporary loss of peripheral vision also referred to as tunnel vision. Tunnel vision can result from a variety of factors including high adrenaline levels in the body from stress or anger. Although I was not experiencing high adrenaline levels in the scenario, I was stressed since I wanted to do well. Tunnel vision can also result from a hyper focus on something such as the badge in my case.

I do not know how long I was focused on the badge and failed to ask during the after action review; however, I do not believe it was more than a second or two. Clearly it was long enough for the perpetrator to shoot the officer. When I saw the perpetrator shoot the officer, I turned my attention to him and reacted appropriately to the deadly threat against me.

So how do we prevent tunnel vision? The first step in dealing with narrowing attention is understanding that it can happen as your stress level rises and your body does an adrenaline dump in response. Being able to control your stress is one of the best ways to combat the ill effects of the hormonal chemical dump that changes your psychological, cognitive, and physical performance. Breathing techniques can be effective if you have time.

If you find you are fixating on one sound or one task, make a conscious effort to unlock your senses from it and force yourself to scan your environment. During the scenario, the police officer and I were both focused on each other and not on the perpetrator (the officer did not defend himself either). Obviously my best response upon seeing the badge would have been immediately turning my attention on the perpetrator and commanding him not to move. Would the perpetrator have acted anyway? I do not know; however, I would have been better prepared for his attack and may have been able to prevent him from shooting the officer.

Practicing reactions to deadly force scenarios or other emergencies increases our confidence and increased confidence lowers our body's stress response when we actually face dangerous situations. Our field of vision is not as narrow as it might be otherwise, and our tendency to fixate on a "fear object" or other distraction diminishes. Because our brain is in a more relaxed state, it is more able to dedicate resources to creatively addressing new challenges (for example, incoming gunfire from an unexpected direction).

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