Police from five Metro Vancouver departments will start training this month in a new state-of-the-art simulator in Delta aimed at providing officers with enhanced practice in de-escalation and use-of-force scenarios.
Part of the new Regional Municipal Training Centre, the facility is jointly funded by the Delta, New Westminster, Port Moody, West Vancouver and Metro Vancouver Transit police departments. The centre includes a classroom where officers will discuss policy, best practices and case law, and a full mat room for practicing physical control techniques.
“It’s not about target practice, it’s about decision-making practice,” DPD Deputy Chief Norm Lipinski said at the centre’s grand opening on Monday, March 2. “We know that the more you’re put in a stress environment where you have to make decisions in a nanosecond, the more you do that the better you get at it.”
Lipinski said the centre will enable municipal forces to expose their officers to different types of stressful environments “so they make those decisions, and that includes de-escalation, that includes talking to the person, that includes going to cover etc., and that includes using force.”
The simulator, which Lipinski noted is the first of its kind in Canada, is housed within a purpose-built structure to create an immersive environment, and consists of five large screens surrounding the officer and real-time audio, linked to a computer operated by a trainer.
The system comes with 400 scenarios — each with dozens of possible outcomes — designed to “create psychological stressors like an elevated heart rate and the high levels of adrenaline that officers experience during dangerous situations,” according to a press release.
Just like in real life, officers will need to assess the verbal and non-verbal cues of people they are interacting with. With the simulator, officers and trainers can discuss the actions taken as soon as a scenario is complete, after which the officer can immediately go back and work through the scenario again. This process of review ensures the officer has the memory and confidence of accomplishing a successful outcome.
“It’s really about critical decision making. We have the ability with the simulator to run hundreds of different scenarios, and those will allow officers to put their communication, their weapon handling and their tactics, integrate them and practice them in a life-like situation,” DPD Staff Sgt. Mo Parry explained during a demonstration of the simulator March 2.
“Within each scenario, we have what we call branch options, and that allows the instructors to take the scenario from maybe a non-escalation through the de-escalation, intermediate force options and all the way to a high level use-of-force scenario. Literally within each scenario we can run 25 to 85 different resolutions or outcomes, based on the officer’s behaviour and response to subject behaviour. So it’s quite amazing to be able to have that kind of capability.”
In the future, the realness of the scenarios will be heightened even further by swapping stock-image backgrounds out for local ones, such as the Alex Fraser Bridge or inside a Canada Line SkyTrain. As well, the company that makes the simulator sends out 10 new scenarios each year based on trends and data submitted by police departments.
Previously, the DPD relied on “reality-based training” — police using paintball-type ammunition running scenarios in an off-site location with actors — but that kind of exercise is both time-consuming and expensive to set up and run, as well as limited in scope.
“We will still do some of that — you can’t get away from real life, that’s all good — but in the long term this is much more efficient because if we … use an office building or an old house somewhere, you can only replicate [a] limited number of scenarios. I can’t replicate a Canada Line, I can’t replicate a school, I can’t replicate the ferry, etc.,” Lipinski said.
“[With the simulator] we can do different people, different scenarios, with instant feedback, a lot of them in a short period of time. So this is way more efficient from a time perspective, and also from a different type of scenario perspective.”
The new training centre cost $286,000 to build out, with the simulator itself accounting for $225,000 of that total. All five police departments shared in the cost of the centre, pro-rated based on the number of officers in each. According to a report by B.C.’s Ministry of Public Safety, the DPD has an authorized strength of 190 members, followed by Metro Vancouver Transit Police (183), New Westminster Police Department at (112), West Vancouver Police Department (79) and Port Moody Police Department (52).
The City of Delta also provided space within a city-owned facility to house the centre, saving the departments from having to pay an annual lease.