Force Option Training Simulator
CHP's High-Tech Training Aid
The CHP has always had a well-designed policy regarding the use of force, however, the circumstances surrounding the Rodney King incident caused a reexamination of this policy, not only for the CHP, but many other law enforcement agencies throughout the country.
Seventy-five percent of assailants who attack Highway Patrol officers rely on fists and feet. The CHP response is virtually always something other than a gun, at least at the outset - although use of a weapon is not precluded if circumstances dictate. Unfortunately, the training simulators used by many law enforcement departments feature standard "shoot / don't shoot" scenarios that ignore the more typical confrontations when a handgun is not an option.
The ability to defuse or control a situation before it reaches flashpoint is a critical skill required for any officer, and the question for CHP's top management was: Can a training process be created that reveals both an officer's understanding of policy, and the capability to make the best choices in any type of situation where force may be required?
The Highway Patrol Academy's Sgt. Erik Knudsen (11646) proposed a solution to this quandary - a simulator that would be flexible and allow for a number of possible outcomes for each problem situation. How the officer reacts would determine the subject's response. He also wanted any simulator to be mobile, easy to operate and low maintenance.
After the Department gave him the go-ahead to develop his idea, Knudsen asked the eight field divisions to help him define problem situations, enlisted the audio-visual unit to tape the 14 scenarios, each involving the initiating problem and the various outcomes; brought in Academy enforcement tactics instructors to assure that departmental policy was consistently incorporated; and teamed with the Motor Transport Section to design the vehicle.
The ultimate product of their combined efforts is now CHP's high-tech training aid - FOTS, an acronym for the program's more formal designation, Force Option Training Simulator. The new simulators (there are nine - each of the eight CHP Divisions has been assigned one, as well as the Academy) capitalize on the combined versatility of lasers and cameras to create simulations that are near reality.
An example of a FOTS scenario: the "routine stop" - a violator angles his vehicle toward the curb as soon as he spots the red light in his mirror. The CHP black and white pulls in behind and the officer steps out. The violator, a young man also gets out, but his body language clearly signals danger, he advances toward the officer, shouting in a loud voice, ready for a physical confrontation. The officer says firmly: "Move over to the curb. Get on the curb!", but suddenly the man attacks.
If the officer chooses pepper spray to halt the assailant, he or she "sprays" the on-screen attacker with a laser-beam-outfitted pepper spray canister - and the subject grabs his face in agony. If the spray is off-target and misses the face, the angry subject keeps charging. Or because pepper spray is 96 percent effective, the action may be programmed to make the assailant one of the 4 percent unfazed by the irritant and the officer then faces another decision. If the handgun comes into action, its "bullet" is also a laser beam, creating a change in the outcome based on the shooting accuracy of the officer. The angry assailant may keep coming if none of the shots are lethal.
The subject in the FOTS scenario is an image on a large screen, projected from a laser disk. The officer is very real, however, placed in this simulated exercise for training purposes. The simulation is so authentic that it is difficult to remember that the action is taking place inside a 24-by-9-foot metal box mounted on the bed of a truck chassis.
The simulator's laser-disk operating system was developed by an outside contractor, however, the Academy's audio visual team combined knowledge of video camera use and computer programming to assist with making the disks. The AV team developed a precision method to merge the "branching" of scenarios - a branch being that point where the action may turn in any of several directions.
Fourteen scenarios were put on disks, some based on actual high-risk incidents experienced by CHP officers and all typical of situations which CHP officers could face. The simulator can be operated by one person sitting at the control computer, punching in scenarios, and in certain situations, judging when an officer has successfully defused a situation with words alone. Other possibilities can be factored in, some requiring force, but the simulation lets the officer become the judge of his or her own capabilities and knowledge levels. The department hopes to have every officer experience three scenarios per quarter - 12 a year.
FOTS is also proving highly useful in the conduct of Officer Safety Certifications, a periodic test measuring handcuffing techniques, use of baton and other skills. The weapons performance regimen calls for unloading and loading the handgun with the strong hand and the weak hand, in both standing and sitting positions. This exercise used to be a race with a stopwatch - get it done or hear the training officer instructor say, "too slow." Now the stopwatch is gone - the FOTS screen displays an assailant, himself reloading, and the officer must complete the assigned exercise before the screen adversary shoots.
The original estimated cost of FOTS was $1 million for nine mobile simulators, however, the cost of each completed simulator was actually $90,000. The savings resulted from in-house completion of major segments - such as shooting and producing the videotapes, and also using CHP officers as actors. FOTS was completely funded through drug-related asset forfeitures.
The laser disks produced for CHP training are highly valued by other departments, and can be acquired through the disk contractor, with CHP earning a royalty on each sale. Revenue from the sales will be used by CHP for production of additional disks, since new scenarios will be needed on a regular basis. In effect, the program is now self-financing.