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'Real-life scenario'

Walking through a school searching for an active shooter, responding to an enraged man pounding on car windows in an airport parking lot or responding to an armed bank robbery — these are all scenarios officers at the Medford Police Department can put themselves in the middle of with a state-of-the-art interactive training system.

"I think the biggest benefit is there is no actual threat for our officers," said MPD Sgt. Kerry Curtis. "We get to put ourselves into a realistic scenario and it's almost like gaining experience as if you were actually there."

The use-of-force and firearms training system made by Michigan-based company Milo Range was purchased with about $30,000 in drug seizure money last year, said MPD Chief Tim George, and allows officers to test themselves verbally, mentally and physically in hundreds of different video scenarios.

It's not a video game; the scenarios are enacted by actors in parks, building, banks and other real-life surroundings. Played out on a large projector screen in a dark room with booming theater-quality sound, some of the scenarios require officers to verbally calm subjects, while others require the use of a taser, pepper spray or deadly force. 

One officer stands in front of the screen while the other sits in the back of the room controlling the scenarios and critiquing the response of whomever is being tested.  

"They're not all lethal force ... in some of them if you don't say what is correct then maybe the person will come at you, but if you have good verbal skills then it will de-escalate the situation," said MPD Officer Ernie Whiteman Jr.

The taser, pistol and pepper spray canister that go along with the training system have a realistic weight, feel and recoil. 

"It's a real-life scenario where we want our officers to interact with the system," Curtis said. "We want them to make a use-of-force choice. If it's not a lethal force scenario we don't want people shooting people. They're standing there looking at as live of a person as we can get ... we want them to give good commands and respond in the right way."

The indoor system — as opposed to former scenario-based trainings that required several officers, a large space and lots of time — allows officers to get through training scenarios more efficiently, effectively and frequently, George said. 

He said it's better to give officers short and frequent spurts of training as opposed to long, drawn-out training sessions. 

Curtis said MPD's goal is to have every officer use the system at least once a month. 

"It's good training for us," he said. "We try to simulate some of the stressors that the officers go through ... . They know they are going to have to make a decision at some point during the scenario and we want them to make the right decision, whether it's the utilization of cover that we'll put out in the room or deploying the correct weapon."

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-776-4471 or swheeler@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/swhlr.

Medford Police Sergeant Kerry Curtis keeps his gun aimed at an armed suspect during an interactive video training session. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell