VirTra Training System helps officers hone skills simulating real-life scenarios

CHICAGO -- Split seconds and adrenaline could be the difference between going home safe or not going home at all for law enforcement officials who put their life on the line every day. Now, a new law enforcement training tool is helping officers develop their skills.

FOX6 News recently got a rare look at a high-tech law enforcement training tool: the VirTra System.

The VirTra System is a firearm simulator that offers a 300-degree experience for training. Over 70 scenarios can be shown on video screens stretching 300 degrees.

VirTra developed the training systems for use with real weapons armed with air cartridges and laser sites. The simulator is controlled via computer that allows the operator to change the simulator based on the user’s performance. Because of the system's flexibility, there could be hundreds of training outcomes. The result means training won't be redundant and officers skills can remain sharp.

Supervisory Inspector U.S. Marshal Ed Farrell is responsible for interactively controlling the direction of action and part of the outcome -- from the tone of a suspect's conversation, to the sound effects to where the next threat comes from.

"Nobody ever does the same thing twice," Farrell said.

The system also includes a recently patented device, the Threat-Fire, that hooks on to users belt and gives them a shock when they make a mistake in the simulator.

Law enforcement officials use real firearms discharging compressed air to eliminate video threats -- simulating real-life situations.

"It's our duty weapon that's retrofitted with a laser barrel. The magazines are fitted with compressed air. When the student pulls the trigger, the gun recoils as it would in real life. It shows how quickly judgement decisions have to be made. If they're not made immediately and quickly, lives can be lost," Jason Grunwald, commander of the U.S. Marshals' Great Lakes Fugitive Task Force said.

On May 16th of this year, those judgement skills were called upon in a Milwaukee southside neighborhood when Mario Lopez ran from law enforcement with a Smith & Wesson Sigma pistol.

During the chase, Lopez fell to the ground. Despite being ordered to surrender, Lopez reportedly reached for the weapon.

Law enforcement officials opened fire, injuring Lopez.

An investigation ruled the U.S. Marshals on the scene called upon their training to stop a lethal threat and potentially fatal situation. It was ruled the U.S. Marshals were justified in their use of force and both went home uninjured.

Both of the U.S. Marshals involved in the Lopez incident trained on the VirTra System.

The system was first set up in 2010, and has a price tag of over $200,000. Since the training system has operated in Chicago, about 1,000 officers from local, state, county and federal agencies from around the Great Lakes region have taken part.

Jason Grunwald, commander of the U.S. Marshals' Great Lakes Fugitive Task Force says this training has helped save the lives of officers and those they work to protect.

"There's not a thing more important to us than every police officer going home safely every night. Without constant, ongoing training, our skills will diminish and we need to stay sharp," Grunwald said.

CLICK HERE for additional information on the VirTra System.