While it could arguably be called a really cool video game, the technologically advanced system that recently spent a couple of weeks in the possession of the Texas County Sheriff’s Department was actually a unique and effective training tool.

Known as a “firearms simulator,” the system is designed and distributed by Ti Training, of Golden, Colo. Its basic premise is to put officers in situations that may or may not require deployment of a firearm through projection of a full-scale movie in which characters – or suspects – move, speak and otherwise interact with the officer in very real manner.

The system is equipped with infrared technology, and light emanating from the specially designed weapons used by participants is detected such that it knows where a shot ended up – and whether is was a “hit” or a “miss.” There are some 4,000 possible scenarios the system’s operator can choose to project, and the surreally accurate depiction of each one is augmented by a crystal clear surround sound audio track.

The system’s guns resemble actual firearms, and they’re outfitted with CO2 cartridges so shots fired sound and feel real. Scenarios not only can be played out by officers armed with pistols, but also shotguns, AR15s, tasers or pepper spray.

The simulator was brought to Texas County by Traci Ciepiela, a criminal justice teacher at Western Wyoming Community College, in Rock Springs, Wyo., who is also a certified law enforcement officer and has spent the past seven summers working as a deputy with the TCSD. Ciepiela (pronounced “chipella” – it’s of Polish origin) is also a certified Ti Simulator trainer, and the system used here was jointly purchased by the college, the Sweetwater County (Wyoming) Sheriff’s department and two police departments in that general area.

Each scenario the system can present is patterned after an incident that actually took place somewhere in the U.S.

“Everyone talks about it like it’s a life-size video game, but we try not to refer to it as that,” Ciepiela said, “because it’s much more real. We can only train so much, and this is as close to reality as we can get.”

Participating officers must be on full alert, as suspects might pull out a gun or an identification card, or do something highly unexpected, like brandish a staple gun.

“I can make the decision in the middle of a scenario,” Ciepiela said, “so even if there are four officers watching the same scenario, it can change for every one of them.

“It’s incredible.”

In addition to the real-life scenarios, the system can be used for target practice with human-body silhouettes moving laterally across the screen in either direction.

“We never get to train that way,” Ciepiela said. “We can sometimes move targets at us or away from us, but there’s no facility around here that has targets that move back and forth.”

The Ti system is even cost-effective in that one CO2 cartridge can last an hour, saving expenditure on the countless bullets that might be fired in the same amount of time. Ciepiela said numerous TCSD officers experienced the system, and most embraced it whole-heartedly.

“I think the ones who did it got a lot out of it,” she said. “Some of them loved it so much they ended up yelling at the screen or didn’t want to quit.”

Ciepiela plans to transfer her commission to Wyoming, and will likely not return to the TCSD for another summer. She said Ti’s training regimen is designed to build up rather than tear down participating officers.

“We don’t just do the scenarios,” she said. “Afterward, we’ll sit down and discuss what went wrong or right and we don’t judge them by saying ‘you died’ or ‘you failed.’ Part of what Ti has us do is go through what exactly they did and what they saw, and we’re supposed to question them on some details.

“We want to teach them that there might be good decisions or bad decisions, but you’re never out of the fight.”

If the TCSD does similar training in the future, it won’t be with the system Ciepiela brought.

“It’s going to be permanently set up at one of the police departments soon, so this was the last chance to bring it here,” she said. “It’s a fantastic system and offers fantastic training.”

We can only train so much, and this is as close to reality as we can get.”

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