Located beside the print services office on the University of North Georgia’s Dahlonega campus is a small room where our future law enforcement officers are undergoing some high-tech training. Implemented in spring of 2017, the Fire Arms Training System, or FATS, offers UNG Police Academy students the opportunity to try out approximately 1200 scenarios common to policing.
These scenarios include simulations for pursuit driving, burglaries, traffic stops, domestic disputes and a plethora of other law enforcement situations. To begin the scenarios, Police Academy students stand in the central part of the simulation room, prepare their real 40-caliber Glocks loaded with 300psi and face a 1080p projection.
From there the simulator gives instructions based on the specific scenario. Parameters and expectations are laid out and the academy student is expected to handle whatever situation they’re faced with. Most scenarios have a multitude of endings. This requires future law enforcement officers to think on their feet in order to pass any given scenario.
Among these potential future police officers is Joseph DellaPiana, the president of UNG’s Police Academy. Before meeting with the Vanguard, DellaPiana completed the simulation for GDAC, the Georgia Semi-Auto Pistol Qualification Course, which requires speed and accuracy firing at the three, seven, 15 and 25 yard lines.
GDAC is one of the useful courses that the FATS simulator can imitate before the actual live qualification drill. Passing the GDAC, which is required yearly by all Georgia law enforcement, requires a score of at least 240 out of a possible 300 points based on your accuracy. DellaPiana scored an impressive 296 before describing the benefits of the new police academy simulation.
“The simulator basically provides an environment that requires little safety regulations to be enforced, DellaPiana said. “There’s no live ammo here. … It’s all done through Bluetooth and virtual means.”
DellaPiana further described the simulation as a viable way to prepare for the qualification course without having to go to the range every day.
While impossible at a live-fire range, the FATS simulator allows instructors to give constant instruction and critique through surround sound speakers as well as the ability to direct the given scenarios via the main simulation computer. The simulator even gives instructors the ability to fire back at the user with small foam balls fired at 300 feet per second.
Dr. Butch Newkirk, master training instructor and director of the Public Safety Academy of UNG, assured me that “they’ll leave a welt on you.” Newkirk went on to describe his role as director, outlining his responsibilities and how he evaluates students enrolled in the academy.
“My job is to direct them through the whole academy, through all aspects of it; their judgmental use of deadly force, their CPR training, everything that a police officer does, I get them through that.”
Prior to my interview with Newkirk, I was able to try out a couple of the simulations. Among these was a traffic stop-turned-shootout with a man on a motorcycle. I was required to shout verbal commands, assess the situation and, in this scenario, use deadly force. The lifelike simulation required me to act as an officer would in the field and gave me good perspective into the intense decisions officers must make in an instant. Though it took some time, I finally injured and secured the gunman.
After witnessing my near-failure against the armed attacker, Newkirk further defined the training provided by the UNG Public Safety Academy.
“A basic academy student gets two hours of ethics,” Newkirk said. “They get 16 weeks here. It’s the only type of academy in the United States like it. We’re the only university that has a four-year program where they graduate and they’re a certified police officer.”
Due to the implementation of the FATS system, UNG Police Academy students will be able to experience a multitude of the mundane or deadly scenarios they will likely encounter once graduating as certified police officers. Newkirk is confident these simulations provide an excellent alternative to fieldwork.
“The beneficial part of this course is training our officers when to shoot and not to shoot,” Newkirk said. “That way we have less shootings that are not justified. What we try to do is train them properly where they can make the right decisions.”