Area law enforcers get firing simulator

When presented with a win-win situation, you can't lose. So when Dickinson Police Chief Chuck Rummel was presented with an idea that would not only decrease overall department costs, but also increase officer proficiency, it wasn't too tough to c...

When presented with a win-win situation, you can't lose.

So when Dickinson Police Chief Chuck Rummel was presented with an idea that would not only decrease overall department costs, but also increase officer proficiency, it wasn't too tough to come to a conclusion.

The idea - purchase a firing simulator.

"We're always looking at ways to improve and save on our costs," Rummel said. "When he (Officer Nick Gates) presented this, he showed me how much we would be able to save with this machine, versus using live ammunition. I was very impressed with his presentation when he pitched this machine. He had it all figured out."

Officer Gates, who has been with the Dickinson Police Department two years, presented the idea of investing in a firing simulator to Chief Rummel in October 2006.


"These have been around for years," Gates said of the simulators. "They used to be called FATS machines - firearms training simulation. FATS machines were huge. They were transported in a cargo van, they ran off of laser disks. The gun ran off of CO2, so when you pulled the trigger, the gun actually recoiled. But, they also cost about $100,000. It's just not practical for a department like ours."

To improve the practicality of the purchase, the Stark County Sheriff's Department and the Southwest Multi-County Correctional Center collaborated with the Dickinson Police Department to purchase the simulator.

"One of the police department officers researched it and it just made sense to go in on it," Stark County Sheriff Clarence Tuhy said. "We're all in it for the same thing, to reduce cost and improve officer proficiency."

Gates served in the United States Navy and received training and instructor certification through the military on the same simulator the police department eventually purchased. After receiving that training, he began to look into what it would take for local law enforcement to get a simulator of its own.

"This (the software and peripheral equipment) cost us around $6,000 and with the cost of the computer the total was around $9,000," he said. "If we can shoot 4,000 boxes of ammo on this simulator, at $10 a box, we've more than paid for this and our officers are also more proficient."

The department had a special computer built to operate the simulation program.

"This is a special computer built just for this simulation because it takes a lot of memory," Gates said.

As Gates demonstrated, the program is indeed vast. There are several different modes and setups within each mode for officers to refine their shooting skills.


Simple target shooting includes seven different overlays. The distance from the target is also adjustable not only by the computer, but the room can also be set for officers to physically take steps forward or backward to adjust distance.

"Officers also practice shooting on the move," Gates said. "We can, if we're out in the open, move to a place of cover and fire at the target from there, but we have to be able to move and shoot."

The program also features several modes to practice shooting at a moving target.

"You can also change the greyscale on the targets, so they are harder to see," Gates said.

Even more valuable than the target shooting is the situation simulation. A movie, filmed from an officer's perspective, runs through various confrontational scenarios.

The individual viewing the simulation is required to use reasoning to determine whether or not to use the fire arm. Once the movie is completed, if shots were taken, the individual can review the movie and can review the accuracy of their shooting.

The simulator even has the option of creating and filming its own scenarios.

"Something we've been wanting to do with this is get some volunteers and film a situation at some of the locations in town here," Gates said. "That way we can train in locations where a situation may actually arise."


Even with so many options, the time it takes to set up is minimal.

"It only takes about 20 minutes," Gates said. "I think I've trained in 11 people on how to set it up and how to turn on the programs."

How this piece of technology works is the computer projects the target or movie onto a screen. A camera is set up facing that screen which detects light from the laser. Once the camera detects the "bullet" it sends input back to the computer.

"The screen senses this little laser that every time the hammer on the gun falls, the vibration sends off a little beam," Gates said. "That's what the screen picks up instead of using ammunition."

After the initial purchase cost, the only recurring cost is for the laser battery.

"The laser itself costs about $500, and it lasts for years and years, and if there's ever a problem with the laser, the company will replace it for free if it fails," Gates said. "The only additional cost is the little battery that's in here costs us $14.95."

The department has a red-colored hand gun which is an exact replica of the gun department members carry.

"This is the same bottom half of the gun that we carry so the grip is still the same," Gates said.


However, the laser can be adapted to any gun.

"You can use any weapon with this because all you have to do is insert this (laser) into the barrel," Gates said. "The guys can bring their off-duty weapons from home. Other departments can come in and use it. They just unload all their ammunition before they fire at the screen."

The only difference between firing the replica and firing a real hand gun is the fact there is no recoil. But that's not necessarily a detriment. Removing the recoil factor can allow a shooter to refine his/her aim.

"Anticipation of the bang is what has the effect on people when shooting," Gates said. "If you're anticipating that the gun is going to go off, you're going to push the gun down so it doesn't recoil back so hard, so people are going to shoot low. If their grip is too light, they're going to shoot high because the gun is going to go off and they're going to be like...'Whoa!'"

Hopefully, local law enforcement will not be required to use their shooting skills in a confrontation, but they always need to be prepared.

"Most of the officers here won't be able to tell you the last time there was a shooting in Dickinson," Gates said. "But that doesn't mean in an hour it's not going to happen. We have to prepare as though it's going to happen on any one of our shifts."

What To Read Next
Get Local