Whether it’s a simple traffic stop or a highly violent situation, Penn's Division of Public Safety has a machine that can prepare Penn Police officers to handle it.
This machine, called the PRISim Suite Judgement Trainer, is made by the Cubic Corporation, which provides services to transportation and defense companies. It inserts officers into a variety of simulations which model real-life situations. DPS considers participation in this exercise to be an essential part of officer training.
Penn Police Sergeant John Dicicco, a tactical supervisor and firearms instructor, explained that the machine helps officers to prepare for possible scenarios they may encounter.
“Often you have a fraction of a second to react,” Dicicco said. “Action [of a potential criminal] is always faster than reaction [of an officer].”
Dicicco and Patrol Officer Stephen Develin, a firearms instructor, explained that using the machine is a multi-step process. Officers must first successfully complete a "thinking game" to heighten their alertness before they are provided with a very brief identification of the type of scenario they are about to face. After this, they begin the simulation.
During each encounter, officers are able to speak with simulated suspects, who can respond in a variety of ways. Officers using the device are equipped with a firearm containing a simulation barrel. If the officer chooses to fire, the gun imitates the recoil of a real gun. Officers are also given simulation pepper spray and tasers.
Once the scenario is finished, the encounter is analyzed and officers are debriefed on their performance.
Although Penn Police has been using similar devices for the past 15 years, the PRISim trainer is more technologically advanced, according to Penn Police Deputy Chief of Tactical and Emergency Readiness Michael Fink. He added that operating some of the older machines was complicated and could take hours, whereas the PRISim Suite Judgement Trainer could be set up and used in minutes.
Fink also explained that the apparatus helps officers learn and adhere to the use of the "force continuum," which is a guide for how much force is necessary to deescalate a situation.
“It’s all about the resistance a subject is giving and what it’s going to take to control that,” Fink said.
Develin agreed with Fink, adding that oftentimes all that is needed to take command of a situation is a flashlight. In fact, officers are expected to use the least amount of force necessary, Dicicco said.
Use of the PRISim trainer also extends beyond police training. Each year at the DPS open house, an event where University City residents can learn about DPS and meet staff members, attendees are allowed to use the device.
DPS Vice President Maureen Rush said the PRISim Trainer could be a useful method for raising student and community awareness about what police officers do.
“Put them in the situation of a shoot/don’t shoot scenario, and they have a whole new respect for the jobs of police officers around the country,” Rush said.