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Worst-Case Videos : Law enforcement: Deputies draw their guns and fire at tape depicting crime situations. It’s all part of the training.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The 10- by 20-foot projection room at the Ventura County sheriff’s training academy doesn’t look intimidating.

But when the lights go down, deputies say, their hearts pound and their palms get sweaty.

The room is used to show training videos that portray lifelike crime situations. Viewing deputies, using guns with blanks, must decide whether to shoot suspects in scenarios ranging from routine traffic stops to assassination attempts on foreign dignitaries.

“It’s very realistic,” Assistant Sheriff Richard Bryce said. “I’ve died a few times. I got stabbed once.”

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The training video is run by a computer operator using a program that changes the criminals’ actions depending on what the deputies say or do.

Revolvers similar to the ones deputies carry on the streets are specially outfitted with lasers for the video practice sessions. When fired, the revolvers project the lasers onto the movie screen.

The computer registers where the laser hits and alters the ending based on how severely the suspects are wounded, said Lt. Craig Husband, who heads the training academy.

“Depending on how well you do, sometimes they die, or sometimes they come back up and shoot you,” Bryce said. “It really gets your heart beating, and, of course, you don’t want to shoot the wrong person.”

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Each of the 16 different story lines--including a search for a drug lab in a deserted building and a gang fight in a dark alley--has about 30 possible endings, said Sheriff’s Department technician Bob Boles, who operates the computer program. New scenarios for the Apogee System are continually developed by the manufacturer, ICAT Inc. of New Mexico.

The department bought the $30,000 system in 1987 to provide more realistic training for recruits entering the Ventura County Criminal Justice Training Center and to help the department’s 600 sworn personnel brush up on their skills, Husband said. Such systems are used in fewer than 5% of the departments nationwide, but sheriff’s deputies say the state-of-the-art system is more than worth it, Husband said.

“At a range, you’re shooting at stationary objects,” Husband said. “This (video) makes it as realistic as possible, where you’re actually confronting situations.”

Sheriff’s deputies are scheduled for the drills about twice a year. The room is also used for academy training and is available for practice by deputies, Husband said. In addition, the video room may be rented for $26 an hour by law-enforcement officers countywide.

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During a recent practice, Deputy John Miller stood about 12 feet from the screen, poised for action. The room came alive with a video of a sports car on the highway, its passengers involved in a heated argument.

“You observe the vehicle driving erratically and pull over,” the voice on the video intoned.

When asked what he wanted to do, Miller chose to walk up to the car on the driver’s side. As he neared, the driver yelled at his girlfriend, “That’s it, man, I’ve just had enough!”

“I’ve really had it with you, J.D.!” the blond woman responded before reaching between the seats to grab a revolver.

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She fired once at her companion then turned toward the camera and blasted the officer.

Miller fired--but too late. The computer showed that he had been felled by the shot.

“Great,” Miller responded. “Ruin my day.”

Running through the scenario again, Miller decided to approach the car from the passenger side.

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This time, he was ready when the woman pulled the gun. He shot her in the back of the head, which a supervisor said was appropriate under the circumstances.

Husband said the video comes as a surprise to recruits who do not realize how fast they must make decisions when confronted by potentially dangerous criminals. It teaches them to keep their eyes on suspects’ hands, to determine who is a threat and to learn basic shooting skills, he said.

And although not every scenario ends in a shootout, each simulates the unpredictability of the street. “It creates a stressful environment,” Husband said.


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