Greensboro police opens up use of force simulator

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- What is it like to be a police officer, holding a gun and faced with a threat? People in Greensboro, including Tom Phillips, a member of the independent Police Community Review Board, got to use the department's FireArm Training Simulator or FATS system.

"When you're right there in the heat of the situation it's a whole different ball game," said Phillips, right after encountering an angry man with a hammer in his simulation.

GPD upgraded their training system a little over a year ago. It has hundreds of different, real-life scenarios and reacts to officers' decisions.

"With the officers they can learn how to better protect themselves and potentially deescalate the situation as opposed to a continuing escalation to a use of force," explained Paul Pell, a retired sergeant with GPD and a current firearms instructor.

Officers must decide if there is imminent danger and if they have the legal right to use force and even deadly force. Phillips says his experience in the FATS system will help him as he and others review complaints against police.

"It just gives me a better sense of the police officers perspective and the thing that I've learned is that the videos don't tell the whole story," Phillips said.

All officer applicants going through the police academy use the FATS system and for the last two years, all 700 or so GPD officers have had refresher training with it. Trainers will ask officers why they made specific decisions and make sure they know their rights as an officer under the law.

Phillips says understanding what officers go through will help the review board make a fair and balanced decision when it comes to any discrepancies over police actions.

"We can look at videos and testimony and everything but this really gives you a sense of the things, the stress that they have to deal with and the quick decisions that they have to make," Phillips said.