Simulator provides students experience with real police scenarios

AnnMarie Kent

You’re a first-year police officer dispatched to an active shooter situation at the local high school. Upon arriving at the scene, you hear teenagers screaming, and the first thing you see is a man holding a gun. What you don’t know is seconds after you see him, he will have dropped his gun and surrendered. So you have to ask yourself,  “Shoot or don’t shoot?”

This scenario and many others will play out in the “Shoot, Don’t Shoot” simulator hosted by NMU Public Safety this week in the Thomas Fine Arts building.

The event, which will give students a glimpse into the life of a police officer, will take place in TFA 231 at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 24. The simulator takes the participant through one of nearly 700 scenarios police officers  might face in their day-to-day work. The scenarios range from a seemingly routine traffic stop to an active shooter inside a school.

Lt. Don Peterman, crime prevention and community policing specialist with Public Safety, said he enjoys showing students what his job is like.

“It lets them see how quick these decisions are that we have to make,” Peterman said. “The split second—fraction of a second—decision when we go in to hunt that person down and take them out.”

With a gun in their hand, students are immersed in the scenario as a projector displays an ever-changing scene played out in real time. While the guns used in the simulator are real guns, the bullets are swapped out for a laser system that works with the ongoing scene on the projector.

In the wake of recent mass shootings and increased media attention around police shootings, Peterman said he wants students to come to the event with questions about use of force.

“There’s a lot of negative publicity across the country right now about police officers,” Peterman said. “We don’t want our students not liking us and not trusting us.”

And while recent shootings have stirred controversy, Peterman encouraged students to come to the event and ask any questions about Public Safety’s day-to-day work as well like parking, snow removal or other campus-wide concerns.

Interim Dean of Health Sciences and Professional Studies Charles Mesloh has worked with four different simulators in his career in criminal justice and helped NMU become the first university in the country to use the simulator for academics. Criminal justice majors enrolled in the “Use-of-force and less lethal weapons” class use the simulator three times a week. Mesloh believes the simulators teach basic problem solving skills, as well as giving students experience with legal and ethical issues.

“It feels real at the time,” Mesloh said. “It feels real when people fall down and bleed in front of you.”

In the simulator, when a student makes a decision to shoot someone, the system operator can continue through the scenario and show the student how the rest of the scene played out. It may seem easy to know who the bad guy is, but it’s just as easy to be wrong, Peterman said. A woman might be holding a gun to a man’s head, but in reality the woman is a teacher that turned the shooter’s gun on him and was waiting for police to arrive.

“It shows that you can get caught up in how hard it really is sometimes,” Peterman said.