“Get out of the truck,” shouts Cpl. Robert Lonick. “Don’t move. Don’t move. Show me your hands.”
As the deputy focuses on the driver of the truck, he almost misses the woman sitting in the front seat who has a gun. Fortunately, it was not a real-life situation but part of a scenario on a use-of-force simulator.
Lonick was one of several officers who went through training with Simtac Services during a recent session hosted by Smith Township police. Jeffrey Seeley, who retired in 2013 from the Pennsylvania State Police after a 20-year career, founded Simtac Services about three years ago.
“The scenario is designed to divide your attention,” Seeley said to Lonick. “You didn’t put your gun away when he got out and put up (his) hands because you knew it wasn’t over.”
The ability to know when to apply deadly force was magnified when an unarmed 17-year-old boy was shot and killed by an East Pittsburgh police officer June 19 while running from a traffic stop. Officer Michael Rosfeld is charged with criminal homicide in the death of Antwon Rose II. The family has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the officer and department.
Seeley said his company provides use-of-force training to several departments in this area, as well as in Ohio and West Virginia.
“It is not just the use of lethal force and nonlethal force,” Seeley said.
The company has a simulator with more than 700 different scenarios, allowing officers to train for difficult real-life situations. The scenarios range from domestic disputes, home invasions and ambushes to traffic stops.
“The scenarios are designed to get the officer to think,” Seeley said. “We have just about every situation that an officer could encounter.”
Seeley said he started the company to provide this type of training to police departments.
“A lot of departments can’t afford this system,” Seeley said. “And if they do get it, it sits in a box most of the year and collects dust.
“This gives officers an opportunity to train in different situations,” he added. “We are always working on heightening awareness of their surroundings and that nothing is routine.”
Seeley said it is as close as training can get to the real thing.
Once the officer is done with training, Seeley said there is a debriefing in which how the different situations were handled is discussed, with suggestions for improvements.
Lonick, a 27-year member of Washington County Sheriff’s Department and its firearms instructor, said any kind of scenario training is beneficial.
“We train on the range where we shoot at a fixed target, but being able to react to a situation is invaluable,” Lonick said. “I think we can use much of this training, especially given the state of things.
“We have to make snap decisions,” he added. “Any time we can train for those snap decisions and how to react is far better.”
The firearms training might include interactive staged scenarios.
“But it is still firing at an inanimate object,” Lonick said. “This is really reality-based because you don’t know what is coming at you, just like in real life.”
Canonsburg police have hosted several of the seminars. Chief Al Coghill said all of his officers have gone through the training over the last two years.
“It is scenario-based,” Coghill said. “And all the equipment – guns, tasers and flashlights – are simulated like the real thing. The gun has a real kick.”
Coghill said force is not required to handle all situations.
“Don’t go in with the mindset that you have to shoot,” he said.
Coghill said the scenarios provide real-world situations that simply can’t be simulated on a shooting range.
“You have distractions,” the chief said. “There are other people, vehicle sounds that are incorporated in the simulator.”
Coghill used a grant from the Western Pennsylvania Chief’s Association to host the training for his department and officers from Cecil, Chartiers, North Strabane, Peters and South Strabane townships, as well as Bridgeville.
Smith police Chief Bernie Larue said some officers have not been able to get this type of training since they were in the police academy.
“We had some extra money in the budget, and getting this training was one of my priorities,” Larue said. “I absolutely recommend it for all departments. We are often faced with split-second decisions.”