ELOY — Christmas arrived early for officers at the Eloy Police Department as they will now receive high-quality training through their own virtual simulator system.
Last year the department received a grant worth nearly $58,000 from the Ak-Chin Indian Community to purchase the VirTra Simulator, which is a de-escalation training and firearms training simulator.
“With everything that law enforcement is going through now, I think we need to better train our officers to make better decisions,” Police Chief Chris Vasquez said. “Hopefully with the machine here and the training that we give them it’ll help the officers and force them to be more engaged and to communicate and to rapidly look to other alternatives than lethal force.”
Vasquez added that it’s the suspect who determines what action an officer takes, and this type of training will help an officer associate muscle memory with a Taser, gun or something else. However, an officer will still use lethal force if necessary.
“That’s what we’re tying to incorporate with this training, and hopefully we’ll have better trained officers,” Vasquez said.
The simulator provides a wide variety of scenarios made to be as real as possible and it also includes PowerPoints and other types of presentations.
According to Officer David Crane the older systems for scenario-based training, 20 years ago, the person on the screen either complied or did not.
As technology has continued to advance, there are different options in one scenario.
“That’s what life gives us,” Crane said. “It’s not just shoot or don’t shoot. We’re trying to get out of that mindset, and this helps us out greatly. It’s so much more complex, it’s much broader as far as what you can do.”
Even though it is just a screen, the officer is encouraged to be involved and as vocal as they can be, as the key is to communicate. Whoever is operating the system then makes a judgment call based on the officer’s actions and reactions and can either make the person on the screen compliant or they can raise their hostility.
“If the officer really messes it up, we can do one of two things,” Crane said. “We can still have (the person on screen) comply and theoretically fail (the officer) on that scenario because they did not communicate, or we can escalate the person on the screen’s behavior to make the officer react and then whatever their action is we can talk about it.”
Lt. Byron Gwaltney added that the operator’s ability to branch the scenario and react to the officer’s actions helps move the training along faster and allows the officer to go through multiple scenarios at one time.
He compared it to going to the gym; the more you do and the more repetitions you do, the more muscle you build. With the simulator training, the more an officer trains action versus reaction, de-escalation, awareness and assigning significance to certain movements, it helps increase their ability to think through stressful situations.
“It adds more things to the officer’s toolbox so that when they’re in a stressful situation, it’s not the first time that they’ve been in it,” Gwaltney said. “That’s one of the key components of virtual-type training, when an officer’s involved in a critical incident, regardless of what it is, it should never be the first time that their brain has gone through it. This gives us the ability to run multiples of those and we’re exercising the brain.”
The department is still working on getting additional accessories for the system, which will include a Taser, pepper spray, gun and even a shock belt. Once everything is complete, the weapons used during the virtual training will be as real as possible.
A real gun will be converted to use in the system, so that when the trigger is pulled, it will manipulate the full force of a real round. The shock belt will let the officer know when they’ve messed up in an effort to make the training as real as possible through the feel, sound and visual reaction.
“If you come and you watch and an officer is doing poorly, you’re going to see it,” Sgt. Kristie Barnette said. “They’re going to start looking stressed, they’re going to really start to hammer on themselves. We go in there wanting 100%. We’re going into it with the full understanding that this is taking the place of what we do out on the street.”
Barnette went through a few scenarios, one of which included a man holding a baby near the edge of a bridge.
Barnette talked the man away from the bridge to the point where he safely set the baby down on the ground.
There was another scenario where a woman was at an ATM machine when a car pulled up and a man got out, then ran toward the woman with a knife and robbed her purse.
After Barnette yelled at the man to stop and put the knife down, she pulled out her gun and shot the man, but then someone else in the vehicle began shooting at her.
“This is new,” Barnette said. “I was surprised. Most of the time in the training when you give them commands, they would drop their weapon and comply. This guy did not, (the second guy) was unexpected.”
In that scenario, Barnette was also able to track where her shots went on the screen. That is another additional training tool the department can use in their own qualification runs such as target practice.
“Technically instead of going out and using live ammo, we can still do training,” Crane said. “They won’t count but we can still run them through repetition. We do judgmental qualifications every year, it’s a requirement. Every year they do have to get a minimum of at least five different scenarios, and they have to pass them. This is a better tool for us to do our jobs and provide a better service to the community.”
ELOY — The City Council held a special meeting last week to adopt a resolution approving the tentative budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
City staff proposed a $52 million budget as the maximum limit of expenditures. Under state law, once the tentative budget is adopted it cannot be increased.
Finance Director Brian Wright told the council that the primary property tax rate will remain the same at $1.06 per $100 net assessed valuation.
The budget includes a $6 million payment to the public safety retirement fund, which has been discussed extensively at previous council meetings.
Wright added that there is an aggressive capital improvement plan that’s funded through a one-time construction sales tax, the federal American Rescue Fund, state gas tax and food sales tax.
Other changes include a $20,000 increase to the Eloy Chamber of Commerce budget, a $2,000 increase to the employee appreciation fund and the addition of travel and training funds for park maintenance facilities.
There will be a public hearing on June 30 for the property tax and for the final budget.
During the special meeting the council also formed a subcommittee to review the applications to fill two vacancies on the Planning and Zoning Commission.
The subcommittee will consist of Councilmen Dan Snyder and Jose Garcia as well as one city employee and current members on the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Originally Councilwoman Sara Curtis would have served on the subcommittee as the ex-officio but since she was recently elected to the council and to the commission, it was agreed upon that Snyder should take her place since he previously served as ex-officio on the commission.
City Manager Harvey Krauss told the council that as soon as the subcommittee is fully formed, the commission applications will be reviewed and interviews with the applicants will be scheduled.
ELOY — The long wait is nearly over as the renovated Eloy Police Department building is almost complete and the ribbon cutting ceremony will be held on June 18.
According to Mayor Micah Powell, the celebration will be similar to the City Hall ribbon cutting ceremony with guest speakers and attendees allowed to tour the building. The ceremony is not open to the public.
The public safety facility is made up of 15,000 square feet and includes everything that is needed in order to operate a modern police department.
The building takes over the space where the former City Hall and the finance building were previously located. As for the section where the police department was previously located on the corner of Main Street and Seventh Street, that was demolished and rebuilt.