The Herkimer College Police Academy in central New York recently unveiled its state-of-the-art law enforcement training center on October 3, featuring the cutting-edge, virtual-reality-based VirTra system.
The training center, with the help of the immersive 300-degree VirTra simulator, is designed to prepare law enforcement officers for high-stress situations and improve their critical thinking, communication skills and decision-making abilities.
The facility’s grand opening marks a significant step toward responding to the evolving demands of modern law enforcement, addressing a range of scenarios from active shooters to mental health crises.
The director at the Law Enforcement Pre-employment Training Academy, Michael Masi, shared insights into the versatile training offered.
“We have mental health scenarios, we have emotionally disturbed person’s scenarios. We have active shooter situations in schools, businesses and on the streets … there’s over 500 different courses,” Masi stated at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Director Masi believes the tool will greatly enhance training not only for cadets at the police academy, but for first responders at other local agencies as well.
“We are appreciative of this new training tool that will help our cadets develop the best skills and be prepared for the field. I am also pleased that this tool will be made available to local law enforcement agencies and other organizations to support their training needs as well,” Masi said.
Students at the academy also shared their enthusiasm about incorporating the simulator into their education.
“We will know how to respond to different situations before they actually happen, so that we can better help our communities,” student Bryanna Houck said.
The immersive VirTra system is instrumental in replicating real-life scenarios that officers commonly face, and those they might rarely encounter.
New York State Police Troop D Captain Jason Place stressed the importance of the simulator for reality-based scenario training.
“The instructor can jolt them, and what that does is simulates them taking a shot. In real life, that would be a bullet,” Place explained.
The captain added that the training will emphasize the use of non-lethal weapons to de-escalate encounters.
“New challenges require new solutions. This virtual simulator provides the ability to practice both scenarios any police officer would regularly encounter, as well as scenarios all the way up to and including active shooters, which the vast majority of police officers might never encounter, but nonetheless must be prepared for, for they can occur anywhere at any moment.”
A unique feature of the VirTra system is its ability to create lifelike stressors. Instructors can even simulate a gunshot to instill the gravity of such high-stakes situations, helping trainees react effectively without using lethal force.
Herkimer College’s innovative approach focuses on de-escalation, use of force, interacting with individuals with mental health issues or disabilities, communication and decision-making.
These simulations are set in real-world locations, including movie theaters, courthouses and school campuses. With five large screens providing a 300-degree immersive training environment, the system effectively replicates the stressors officers experience during real-life incidents, such as elevated heart rate and high levels of adrenaline.
The facility also boasts additional features, such as a Smartboard-interactive flat-panel instructional system, card-access technology, security cameras integrated with the campus-safety system and gun-storage lockers for visiting law enforcement agencies to store live weapons.
Funding for the training space and the VirTra system comes from a state grant awarded through SUNY to campuses for enrollment initiatives.
“Herkimer is grateful to Governor Kathy Hochul, state legislators and the SUNY board of trustees for investing in and supporting innovation on our campus,” said Nicholas Laino, Herkimer College officer-in-charge/senior VP for administration and finance. “This investment will benefit our campus, our students, and our community in significant ways.”
Herkimer College’s Law Enforcement Training Center also offers phase I pre-employment police basic training in partnership with the Little Falls Police Department.
The program is open to both civilians and sworn police officers, providing an alternative to the traditional manner of conducting basic police officer training.
Since its inception, five classes have graduated from the program, with the majority of graduates securing employment upon graduation.
Herkimer College, serving approximately 2,500 students, offers associate-degree and certificate programs in various fields, including art, business, communication arts, criminal justice and law, education, health care and service, liberal arts and sciences and STEM.