The UCF Police Department demonstrated a new virtual firearms training simulator last Friday meant to increase officers’ shooting proficiency and eliminate costly trips to the shooting range.
“People don’t realize that firearms training, it’s a diminishing skill, and if you don’t practice constantly you lose that skill,” UCF Police Chief Richard Beary said.
Beary, 58, has been with UCF PD for 10 years and a firearms instructor for 30 years.
“One of the things we have to do is we have to train constantly so that we understand how our body is going to react to stress and how we can do a better job of dealing with the situation at hand,” he said.
Digitimation Arms Training, or DART for short, is a virtual firearm training simulator that is cost-effective, portable and easy to use, according to its website.
For the past three years, Digimation has been working on decreasing the size and price of their simulators to make them more accessible to police departments such as UCF PD, Digimation President David Avgikos said.
Beary recalled a time when the basic model for a firearm simulator was more than $100,000, but the new simulator at UCF is only about $5,000, he said.
Roughly the size of a tissue box and weighing under two pounds, DART is the first firearms simulator to integrate computer and optical components in a small package, according to its website.
A designated room for the simulator at the police department contains the software, projector and interactive tools such as laser training weapons modeled after a Glock 19 pistol and AR-15 rifle that allow officers to train any time of the day without spending money on ammunition at the shooting range. UCF PD is always looking for new technology and ways to enhance training, Beary said.
Digimation, a Lake Mary-based company that offers virtual simulators, 3-D software and 3-D models, launched the DART simulator a month and a half ago, and UCF PD was one of the first to get the new technology, Avgikos said.
The Visible Weapon software of DART allows individuals to explore the mechanics of a gun and learn each parts’ function. DART offers 100 types of targets, the ability to change target distance, create customized courses and more, according to its website.
“Anything you can do on a gun range you could do with this,” Avgikos said.
Founded in 1992 by Avgikos, Digimation initially provided effects for the entertainment industry but transitioned to military training simulations for the past 25 years, he said.
“They [Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers] have done studies out there that show that training on a simulator works very similar to live-fire training,” Avgikos said.
The company moved from New Orleans to Orlando in 2009. Digimation recently started marketing toward local law enforcement with DART and works closely with several other Central Florida police departments such as the Oviedo Police Department and the Altamonte Springs Police Department, Avgikos, 54, said.
“What they’re doing is building their skills, building their proficiency, so that when that worst case scenario happens, all of that knowledge and know-how is applied,” UCF PD spokeswoman Courtney Gilmartin said.
The simulated firearms that DART uses are similar to what UCF PD officers routinely carry: either a Generation 4 Glock 17 pistol or a Generation 4 Glock 26 pistol, which is kept on officers at all times, and an AR-15 rifle, which is stored securely in their vehicles, Gilmartin said.
Florida law requires police officers to prove their shooting skills, known as qualifying, in the range once a year, Beary said.
Beary doesn’t think that’s enough and requires his officers to qualify four times a year, and Avgikos agrees.
“Imagine you’re a professional basketball player, and you practice four times a year — that probably wouldn’t work,” Avgikos said.
UCF PD prepares for the worst scenarios possible even though there aren’t many circumstances that prompt UCF PD to use firearms, Beary said.
“We came really close to it a few years back in 2013, and then we’ve had a couple false alarms and really close calls, so you just never know. That’s why it’s important to be prepared,” Gilmartin said.
In 2013, a former UCF student living in Tower I devised a plan to pull a fire alarm and spray bullets into a crowd that subsequently formed. UCF PD quickly responded to the fire alarm call as the student’s gun jammed. Thinking the police were responding to his actions and not the fire alarm, he took his life, Gilmartin said.
“Just knowing that could happen here is such a wake-up call,” she said.
Beary said students aren’t usually the problem, but crime in the surrounding area is.
“The potential is always there,” Beary said. “That’s why you have to be prepared all the time.”