Classroom training for software also can be extremely effective, shortening the time it takes for an officer to get up and running. The CAD Zone has a large network of qualified trainers spread across the United States and Canada. Classes also are commonplace at a number of community colleges and state academies. But with a program like The Crash Zone, wouldn't there be problems with a class having a mix of police officers alongside professional crash reconstructionists? Not at all, says Shanes. "The only difference is how you apply the features of the particular software program," he explains. "Any police officer can learn how to do a diagram and produce a great looking one." And, he adds, "Maybe a reconstructionist will use the (Crash Zone) program in a different way to get what he wants out of it, but the method of using the software is essentially the same."
Avoiding mistakes in real-life instances
One of the striking aspects about today's technology for law enforcement is how well it can replicate real-life situations that officers will actually encounter while on duty.
Training on such technology can be tricky, however. John Wills should know. Wills is an instructor for Seattle, Washington-based Advanced Interactive Systems, which manufactures the PRISim Video-Based Judgment Training Simulator. The simulator, which is Microsoft Windows-based, provides realistic use-of-force training that develops the skills required for police officers armed with both lethal and less-lethal weapons.
Wills explains officers who take PRISim training immediately realize how valuable it is when they next encounter real-life situations that demand split-second decisions. Says Wills: "The entire reason for having this kind of judgmental training is to see what kinds of decisions officers make under stress." And there are many stressful factors that the PRISim effectively forces trainees to face, including instant judgment calls, indecision, sudden fear, blindside surprises, all happening many times as the simulator fires a barrage of bullets. Trainees are only allowed a small amount of instruction - for good reason. "I have to caution officers who are being trained on this system against having too many sessions because it takes away from the stress and anxiety of a realistic scenario when overused," Wills says.
One of the biggest benefits of PRISim training is that if an officer has an unfavorable reaction to a situation on the screen, he has a point of reference with the system's training, and can speed up his reaction time should that incident or one like it confront him on the street. In short, Will says, "This training gives the officer a better chance of survival."
Research before buying
If a police department chooses what it thinks is a great new product, but the product proves hard to understand or use, then training officers on it could backfire. According to Pascarella, "Research is everything. You have to get demonstrations, and talk to a department that's using the product you're considering to purchase."
Sgt. Scott Oldham, who serves with the Bloomington (Indiana) Police Department, echoes Pascarella's warnings. It is why his department takes between five and seven months to study a product before purchasing it, after which it may take another month to six weeks before officers are trained on it. The trick is to find the right products that can withstand this lengthy procurement cycle, train officers on them quickly, and then hope the products will still be technologically viable for an extended period.
There is a constant trade-off between manpower issues and equipment issues, according to Oldham. "We can't devote so much time to equipment issues that we don't have enough time to answer police calls," he says. "The nature of patrol officers is that they're call driven."
Developers, police agencies must collaborate
How can a police department know that a technology it has purchased will be worth the gamble once officers have been trained and the product is in the field?
Commander Sid Heal of the Los Angeles (California) Sheriff's Department has a method that seems to prevent costly setbacks. "We have a saying that 'everything works in the lab,' " he says. For instance, Heal recalls one company that offered a camera for law enforcement use that weighed 16 pounds. Heal says his department wanted to know if the camera could survive falling from a 6-foot wall. The developer was puzzled by this question. "You can't climb a wall with a camera," Heal says, "so, the deputy will drop it on the other side. They [the camera manufacturer] needed to make it light enough and small enough to allow a deputy to wield a weapon, or rugged enough to survive dropping."