The air conditioner cooling down the San Fernando Police Department station has given way to an unseen fan trying to push around the hot air in a small, dark room highlighted by a large projection television screen. Al Lopez has invited a visitor in here to introduce him to MILO.
The Multiple Interactive Learning Objectives computer software — MILO — is a high tech, real-life simulator that, for police training purposes, has more than 500 different video scenarios an officer can face in a tour or duty. They range from a routine traffic stop for expired license plates to a robbery in progress to domestic violence to Homeland security.
Many situations involve the possibility of deadly force, whether an officer must draw his or her weapon and the split-second timing that officer may have in which to make a decision.
This is the second year the SFPD has been able to borrow MILO for training, which can cost $25,000. Lopez, a reserve police officer whose worked in San Fernando for 21 years, is a certified trainer. He has been testing the department for the past couple of weeks. Each officer — regular, reserve and administrative (including SFPD Chief Tony Vairo) — interacts with 10 or more different scenarios during a training session.
That includes using a regulation Glock handgun that was converted to fire infrared laser ammunition that is tracked by a special camera and laptop computer. The laser “bullets,” and where they land, show Lopez the “hits” made by the trainee as they discuss the results of each scenario.
The trainee is not graded on the results; instead, Lopez said, he and the trainee get an idea how said officer might react in a stressful situation.
“They’re real-life scenarios,” Lopez said. “Obviously we want mistakes to be made here and not out on the street, because we all want to go home in peace.
“A lot of officers are excellent shots. But when you’re under stress, you can make mistakes. You can ‘slap’ your trigger, which makes the shot go to the right. And when you see victims in the background or foreground, you tend to subconsciously try to avoid them. When you aim at a target you tend be be right on it. When there’s activity going on in the background, you subconsciously tend to shoot a little higher.”
If the police can correct mistakes using the simulator, Lopez said, they may make better decisions out in the streets. And he’s learned how to read an officer’s reactions during the training session, and suggest ways to improve or enhance their communication and negotiation skills.
“Having worked with many of the officers here in San Fernando, and based upon my thoughts of what might be beneficial, when it comes to diffusing situations, the guys and gals here are experts,” Lopez said.
Still, the current public perception of police work — especially among minorities and, in particular, African Americans and Latinos — is there have been too many shootings and killings or unarmed youth and young men, from Los Angeles to New York, and places in-between like Baltimore, Arlington, Texas and Ferguson, Missouri.
The website Al Día News reports that 714 people have been killed in the U.S. by police so far in 2015, with 105 of them being identified as Latino. In July, “The Guardian” published a magazine article predicting U.S. police killings could reach 1,100 by the end of 2015 , with African Americans being killed at twice the rate of whites and Latinos.
Vairo and his department aren’t facing daily protests charging police misconduct and brutality in the City of San Fernando. But the chief understands that police everywhere are being viewed with constant suspicion and concern, and how every little thing they do — good or bad — is magnified.
“We deal with what’s going on by doing our job properly and communicating with the public,” the chief said. “At our end we need to train all the time, and not just in weapons and tactics. We have to keep up with the times. If we’re doing our job correctly and keep the communication port open with the public, we can all work as a team. And if an issue comes up, we can deal with it in a proper manner that’s good for both sides.”
He said he believes the simulation training should increase an officer’s ability to make quick and, ultimately, good decisions.
“It’s a great tool for us to use,” he said. “We’re utilizing technology…we can run so many different scenarios in a cost-effective manner. It makes the officer think all the time, learn ways to de-escalate a situation to avoid extremes.
“But no matter what you do, sometimes the suspect will dictate what you’re doing.”