Why Covington police let the public take the shoot, don’t shoot test

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COVINGTON, LA -- Officers with the Covington Police Department spent last week training in a shoot, don't shoot simulator.  This week, the department invited the public to give it a try.

The machine is a Firearms Training Simulator, or FATS.  In each case, the officer is presented with a scenario.  It could be a suspicious person, the search for a suspect, or a hostage situation.  Every scenario is revealed in a training video.  As the situation escalates, the officer must decide whether to pull the trigger.

The machine is pretty high-tech.  It uses guns that are nearly identical to those that officers might carry while on duty.  The guns even have a little kick when the trigger is pulled.  But they don't shoot bullets, they shoot an infrared beam of light that can be detected by the machine.  The guns also use a bluetooth connection to communicate with the system.

Should the officer decide force is needed and opens fire, not only must the decision be made at the right time but the shot needs to be on target.  If the suspect in the video is a bad guy and takes aim at the officer, but the officer misses, the bad guy will win.  But if the bad guy is hit, he will fall to the ground.

"We have to make split-second decisions, life changing decisions," Chief Tim Lentz told WGNO.  "This gives the public the opportunity to see what officers go through on a daily basis."

Lentz says many of the people who tried the simulator made the wrong decision.  Either they fired when they shouldn't have or waited too long and were themselves shot.

The department brings in the simulator at least once a year.  This is the second time that the public has been invited to give it a try.

"They all left with a different impression than when they came in," Lentz said.  "They have a new respect for what we do on a daily basis."

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