January 18, 2022

Aiming to improve

Firearms simulator lets sheriff’s officers train daily

Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

Tim Jones, Cortland County sheriff’s officer and sheriff’s department training officer, practices Thursday with a new simulation tool that allows police to work with a computer projection in a conference room, rather than drive to a gun range. The system, funded with a state grant, is meant to be a cheap and easy supplement to live-ammunition training.

Tim Jones pulled the trigger on the red and black Glock Model 22 several times in quick succession and returned the handgun to a safe position. Sheriff’s officers looked over his target — a man pointing a gun at Jones.

“You put that right down the muzzle,” Dave Nielsen told Jones, a Cortland County sheriff’s officer and the department’s firearms training officer.

And he didn’t even use a bullet.

County officers began training Thursday with a new computer simulation tool that supplements live ammunition training.

The Dart system from Digimation uses software and a projector to create a number of exercises using simulated weapons — a black and red Glock or an AR-15, both matching weight and other characteristics of county weapons.

The idea is to make training easier, said Capt. Rob Derksen. “It’s not to replace live fire, obviously.”
But live-fire exercises cost money — ammunition, mostly — and time to drive to the McGraw Sportsmen’s Club, set up exercises, run them, and break them down.

The simulation can be set up in a conference room.

“If you’ve got five minutes, shoot a five-minute course,” said Nielsen, vice president of sales for Florida-based Digimation. “If you’ve got 10 minutes, shoot a 10-minute course. Do it two or three times a week.”

Police weapons training isn’t simply target practice. It’s decision making: shoot or don’t shoot; shoot this target or that one; break into a room or sneak in — the list Nielsen gives of exercises the program can simulate runs a full page and includes off-hand shooting, reloading, drawing and holstering, shooting from different positions, while moving and low-light shooting.

Yet coming by training time is difficult, Derksen said. Most officers train only once or twice a year. This tool lets them train a couple of times a week.

“This lets them train, incrementally, every day,” Nielsen said.

“This allows us to focus on fundamentals without safety concerns,” Derksen said. It even lets them shoot simulated billiard balls.

The system was funded by an approximately $15,000 grant from the state Department of Homeland Security.