Friday, December 07, 2007

Practice with Airsoft Guns makes perfect for trainees in Police Training Institute

Editor's note: This is the first in a three-part series of articles profiling the University of Illinois Police Training Institute, which trains recruits from departments across the state through classroom instruction and created simulations.

Newly hired officers from counties around the state of Illinois arrived in full uniform at the University Police Training Institute's training base at Willard Airport for patrol operations training Nov. 27.

By retrofitting the old airport hangar machine shops, the institute has created its own apartment complex to train recruits to analyze scenarios and take in debriefings. On this particularly brisk day of class, a group of rookie officers was tested in situations involving high-risk arrests, domestic disturbances - ranging from suicidal persons, a murder-suicide and a verbal domestic disturbance - and a building search.

"Our training is as close as we can replicate to real situations," said W. Michael Miller, associate director of the institute. "We don't have unwinnable scenarios, as long as proper tactics and strategies are used in each one."

Founded in 1956 by a state statute, the institute strives to give recruits the best possible basic training in a rapid 12-week, 480-hour course.

During these scenario-based classes, role players are armed with paintball guns to give recruits, suited in Kevlar jackets, an idea of the realistic impact being shot causes. Recruits are armed with radios and airsoft guns, which fire and react as the real weapons would.

"We have volunteer role players and we instruct them to do very specific things," said Ken Zimny, associate police training specialist. "We never control the officers and their responses, but we do control the role players."

Zimny spent the session observing how recruits dealt with domestic disturbances. By controlling the role players' actions, he and other instructors can put recruits in specific situations while realistically reconstructing conflicts often seen by professional officers, he said.

A debriefing session followed recruits' completion of each scenario. The students discuss what happened during the practice and what they can improve upon with their instructor and each other.

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