Recent national news coverage has focused attention on the use of force by police officers and stirred debate over whether their lethal responses to perceived threats were justified or excessive. In an effort to help students develop rapid problem-solving skills under stressful situations they may confront in their future law enforcement careers, Northern Michigan University’s criminal justice department has acquired a new use-of-force simulator.
“This is the first time a simulator has been used in a university program,” said department head Charlie Mesloh, who has tested simulators for the U.S. Department of Justice and holds master instructor certificates in two systems. “They’re usually restricted to police academies or professional training sessions, but even then, on a limited basis. Our students will do three simulations per week, beginning with a pilot in January. It makes sense to incorporate technology because students are so accustomed to using it. It also makes sense to explore better options because criminal justice education has been stagnant for too long.”
The simulator allows a student standing in front of a projection screen to be virtually transported into one of 700 video scenarios. She or he might respond to reports of an active shooter in a school, try to diffuse a domestic violence situation, conduct a border crossing inspection or make a seemingly routine traffic stop. The student must quickly assess the evolving situation, which can be controlled by a computer operator, and determine an appropriate response based on visual and audio cues. Is the suspect armed? Would a non-lethal option such as a taser be sufficient? Is it necessary to fire the electronic pistol at the suspect in self-defense? If a lethal response is required, did the student consider that a missed shot might ricochet off the suspect’s vehicle toward the family picnic nearby?
“There’s a lot to take in and things can change in a hurry,” said Mesloh. “A simulator adds a level of realism that traditional classroom lectures can’t provide. Students will also write a report on each simulator incident they complete, as if they were preparing a deposition.
“The bottom line with Ferguson and related events, regardless of your opinion on how they played out, is that citizens want and deserve good cops they can trust who are properly trained in crisis intervention. Employers across the country tell us they want that, too, along with people who can solve problems quickly, communicate well and write detailed reports. Our goal is to expose students to these types of situations and help them develop related skills in college so they are more prepared when they enter a police academy.”
Mesloh said some of the simulator scenarios are applicable to social work, psychology and other academic disciplines. The device might also be used for research. NMU purchased its simulator from MILO Range in Ann Arbor.