BALCONES HEIGHTS - – It looks like a virtual reality video game, but those using it are not playing around. It is an innovative and technologically advanced way for law enforcement officers to practice intense, real-life scenarios.
“We got the virtual reality system about three weeks pre-COVID last year. Officers are put through a variety of scenarios and it’s as close to a real-world situation as we can get them into,” said Texas Municipal Police Association (TMPA) Training Coordinator Bryan Flatt.
The system called Street Smarts includes a virtual reality headset with an attached headset, and plastic tasers, rifles, and pistols. It can play out a long list of scenarios including traffic stops, active shooters, mental health calls, domestic violence calls, and many more. The person doing the training engages directly with the people in the simulation, who talk to them and react to their actions.
Flatt and his team take the simulator training all over the state. He has already done the training with about 10 agencies in Texas.
He said Balcones Heights Police Chief John Jahanara requested the training.
“It’s the head of the organization that realizes, ‘Hey we need to be safe. The more training we can give them, hopefully, the better they’ll perform out on the streets,’” Flatt said.
“We have a lot of officers, we’re a young department, where this is their first law enforcement job so just getting that experience and critique,” said Chief Jahanara.
Chief Jahanara watched as a 10-year veteran on his force, Sgt. Robert Dominguez went through the training.
The trainer gave him the dispatch information right before the simulation. He went through the simulation, then after each one, there was a critique.
In several of the critiques, Dominguez and the trainer talked about distance when possible.
“We have options,” the trainer explained during the critique. “There’s a thing called tactical pause. Tactical pause is just slowing down the situation because when you close distance, you’re compressing time to react. So if you make entry and something goes down, you may have less time to react to it. If we keep distance, we have more time.”
“It’s about the education, the experience of the officer. Can they calm themselves down?” Flatt said. “The judgment training part of this is really what it’s about. We can go to the same family fight address two days in a row, and things are always going to be different.”
“I’ve never been through a situation like that. It was awesome. I think it was really good training. Totally exposes your deficiencies, your tactical deficiencies, your verbal deficiencies. If you’re going to make a mistake, this is the place to do it,” Dominguez said.
He encourages agencies across the state to request the training.
It’s also available to the public. Anyone in the state who works for a public entity or advocacy group can also contact TMPA to set up a training.