Nick's Blog

Personal opinions. Aggressively stated.

Sims City

Oscar is back. Our PT instructor left us about six weeks ago to head to a deployment in Korea, where he did his annual duty as an Air Force Reserve captain, and popped his head back in the class late last week as Dave was teaching us Stress Management (something I left out of this narrative because it was pretty straightforward stuff, and Dave is a good enough instructor to make it uneventful).

So with Oscar back, the prospect of Simunition is not as bad as it was under Clinton, who has outright threatened to shoot us in the upper thighs. Simunition FX Marking Cartridges are actual 9mm rounds that fire an 8.5mm plastic projectile that is filled with a detergent-based colorant, which leaves a mark on clothing. There are six colors, but most law enforcement training facilities use red (for bad guys) and blue (for good guys). The cartridge is fired within a normal pistol frame, but won’t work unless the pistol has had a special conversion barrel and safety ring installed. This barrel prevents a normal round from chambering, let alone firing.

The reason Simunition is needed at all is that for decades cops trained on firearms in a way that would look very much at home on that old Dragnet program I mentioned. Paper targets. Standing still in one place on the range. Dumping their spent cartridges into their hands, lest they get yelled at by the range master. 10, 15, 25 yards, static course of fire, re-holster.

This, it turns out, is not a good way to train. Dead cops holding brass. Cops not moving (according to Sig Sauer Academy, moving a single step left or right during a gunfight doubles your chances of survival – that’s a statistic that sounds apocryphal, and I can’t find any scholarly research to back it up, but let’s agree that moving is better than standing stock still). Cops firing set numbers of rounds (like two. Or three. And then re-holstering). As they were trained to do. I’ve repeated the old saw before, that one never rises to the occasion, one sinks to the level of one’s training, and that was what was happening.

So the training community in law enforcement started to look at the military and see how it could improve civilian law enforcement training. Simulators for shoot/don’t-shoot scenarios, dynamic targets, moving and shooting, reloading by dropping and abandoning magazines while on the move, and, of course, targets that shoot back.

The trick here is that the weapons you use must be identical in size and weight and basic function to those you carry – if you trained with paintball guns the functionality is so different that the repetitive motion training wouldn’t translate to the real street equipment. Sig, Glock, H&K and other gun manufacturers licensed their designs to airsoft gun makers, so that they could produce and sell guns which have the same basic dimensions as, say, my Sig Sauer P229R, but instead of shooting bullets, shoot little teeny BB-shaped plastic balls. Those are cheap (about $100 for the gun and pennies for hundreds of rounds of airsoft) and they sort of function like the real thing (the slide cycles back when a shot is fired, and they load using magazines) but, you know, they feel like toys.

Many agencies do use airsoft because the cost:benefit is very good. But the real thing comes with Simunition – it’s as close as you can get to a gunfight in weight, sound, accuracy and, Unfortunately, pain. These little fuckers hurt like a bitch, and can draw blood at close distances, say, under 10 feet. A really common injury is welts on the fingers, as most people instinctively aim at the gun that is shooting at them, so Simunition opponents often shoot each other in the hands (that hold the gun shooting back).

Simunition rounds are not at all cheap – they’re more than 50 cents each if you buy a lot, close to $1 a round if you don’t – and by a lot I mean thousands and thousands of rounds. The rounds are a little persnickety – they break, and can jam up the weapons, which need to be pampered while shooting. So agencies recognize they’re great but use them in high intensity, high-value training exercises only.

At the academy, they’re using it for the final patrol scenarios. They break the class into four groups, three of six and one of five, and we rotate through scenarios, run by Clinton, Oscar, Cole and some day-help they’ve brought in.

My group first heads out to Misery City, to the multi-story hotel building. We’re going one at a time, and while one goes, the rest of us sit in the apartment complex, waiting. Finally I get in and here’s the scenario:

I’m in my apartment. It’s my first morning on the job, and I’m leaving my house to go to the station to begin field training.

That’s all I get.

I walk out of the apartment and start locking the door and I hear someone near me. I jump: it’s a woman I don’t know, wearing a full face mask and body armor. But that’s just because she’s in a Sim scenario. She’s my neighbor, and she’s saying something:

“Hey, I didn’t know you’re a cop.”

“Yeah, actually this is my first morning.”

“Well, then I’ll tell you, I was just about to call 911 – there’s a weird guy in the parking lot and he’s muttering stuff and he’s just really weird – he may have had a weapon. Could you go see?”

“Yeah, okay – tell you what, call 911 and tell them that I’m looking into it and to send some backup.”

“Okay.”

I walk down the corridor, and as I get to the stairwell, I see a man coming up the stairs. He’s holding a giant butcher knife. He’s walking slowly towards me, knife held high. I draw my gun and point it at him. “Police! Drop the knife! Drop the knife! Put the knife down!”

And he continues towards me, slowly, like a zombie. I try one more time, “Drop the knife!” And when he doesn’t, I fire; on the second round, the gun jams.

Now, I have alluded to but have not mentioned specifically that I have done Sim training before – I’ve spent a total of about three days with these things. Frankly, if the guns aren’t maintained well, they jam all the time. I’m not gonna sit there and worry about it. So I did what we agreed to do in class – I continued pressing the trigger, saying “Press, press press.”

They stopped it. Oscar looked at me and said: “Okay, nice shot, center of center mass. But I kept coming. This isn’t to trick you or set you up to fail, it’s slow, and easy and every class gets the same scenario. What could you have done since I continued to come at you?”

“Failure drill.” That’s two rounds to the chest, one to the head.

“Which would have required you clearing that jam.”

Absolutely. But you know what? I’m too damned familiar with the Sim guns to have got the benefit of that particular scenario. Dammit. I should have fought through it, but I didn’t.

The next scenario began while I was driving in a patrol car, and Brad was riding shotgun as my partner. The car we’re behind signals left, turns right, then cuts through a parking lot. I light him up and pull him over. We approach.

“Hey sir,” I say, “Officer Old, DW Police, you were driving a little erratically back there, do you know why I pulled you over?”

“No.”

Shit. That there is a good lesson: never ask a question that is not designed to elicit useful information.

“Okay, The reason you’re being stopped is that you failed to signal for a turn, and you crossed property. May I see your license and proof of insurance?”

He hands it to me. I move, in the officially sanctioned manner, from the pillar behind the driver to the pillar in front of him, essentially standing facing him from next to the windshield – I’m looking inside the car at him , his hands, and the registration sticker. I see a shotgun shell in the window and some ammunition on the floor of the car. I write down the VIN and registration information and say, “Okay, sir, have you got any weapons in the car?”

“Yeah.”

“What have you got?”

“I have a pistol, and a shotgun.”

“Okay,” and towards Brad I say, “Gun in the car.” Then I look back at the driver, “Where is that handgun sir?”

“Under my seat.”

“Okay, have you got a concealed weapon permit?”

“No.”

“Sir, please keep your hands in plain sight and,” I say, opening the driver-side door, “step out of the car for me.” He complies. I walk him to the back of the car. “Sir, please turn around and put your hands behind your back?” He complies. “Okay, sir,” I say, holding his hands together and handcuffing him, “You’re not under arrest, I’m just detaining you for my safety as I pat you down for weapons, do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“Do you have any weapons on you?”

“No.”

I pat him down and feel none. Brad calls out, “Gun, handgun, under the driver seat.”

I call in on the radio and the reply is that there is one misdemeanor warrant out for the driver’s arrest from a nearby city. “Okay, sir, I told you you were being detained? You’re now under arrest for an outstanding misdemeanor warrant, and unlawful carrying of a weapon.”

They end the scenario. Brad points out that, In fact, in Texas, the driver is entitled to have the gun in his car, concealed under the seat. We’re right to arrest the guy, but only on the misdemeanor warrant, not the gun charge. The driver is Clinton.

“Okay, fellas, here’s the thing,” Clinton tells us, “98% of the time that is just how your stops are going to be, even when the guy is armed. You have to prepare for the 2% when it’s not, but 98% of the time, that right there is exactly how it is.”

Interesting.

My last scenario of the day is a call to a suspicious vehicle. I arrive on the scene and there’s a man in his pickup truck, sitting on the tailgate, looking out on the lake. As I approach, I look in the front and rear passenger seats and see nothing unusual, then approach the man.

“Hey, sir, Officer Old, DW PD, What are you up to?”

“Nothin’,” he says calmly, “Just looking out at the lake.”

“Okay, the reason I’m asking is that we got a call about a suspicious vehicle, and this is a strange place to park.”

“Hmm,” he says, and looks around, “Yeah now that you mention it I guess it is.”

“Okay, sir, can I see your drivers license please?”

“Sure.” He hands it over and I call it in, writing down the information as I do it. Comes back clean.

“Okay, sir, I’m gonna ask you to please move the truck out of here the way you came in, and if yuo want to watch the lake there’s a nice public parking area right up the street about 1/4 of a mile away.”

“Okay,” and he ends the scenario.

Dude, he says, look in the back of the truck. I do, and there’s a shotgun. Okay, but this is Texas, and a guy in a truck with a shotgun in the back? This is not going to get my heart going. He wasn’t carrying lots of ammo, he wasn’t wearing camo gear, he didn’t reach for it or reference it in any way.

Then he says, “But we’re on a school campus. I can’t have it here.”

Lesson learned: always walk around and see the person from all angles before deciding to let someone drive away.

The scenarios have been the single most valuable part of the academy, every time we’ve done them, and this day was no exception. I marvel continually at how long it has taken us to learn so little; how much and how little we actually now know after 17 weeks. Basic Police Academy is literally true: we know enough to become training fodder for the field training officers after graduation, nothing more.

Three days left.

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