Only on News 6: New simulator helps train deputies’ emotional intelligence

Simulator changes depending on deputy’s choice of words, attempts to de-escalate

TAVARES, Fla. – A new piece of equipment inside the Lake County Technical College is helping Lake County deputies get as close to real-life situations as humanly possible so they can train one thing: emotional intelligence.

Equipped with more than 300 different scenarios, five different cameras and a 270-degree screen, deputies enter the simulator to practice using, according to some, one of the most under-trained tools in their arsenal: communication.

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“It’s another tool in our toolbox,” said Capt. Mike Bond, the man in charge of training at the Lake County Sheriff’s Office. “I think we do a lot of training on firearms. We do a lot of training with non-lethal weapons, but we do not get a lot of training on how to talk and interact with people.”

The simulator will change depending on a deputy’s choice of words and attempts to de-escalate each individual situation.

“We can train with less cost, run multiple scenarios and then be able to critique that scenario and have them run it again and run it again,” said Bond. “That way they develop muscle memory.”

News 6 investigators were invited to watch the first deputies go through the new simulator and try the new simulator firsthand. Investigator Merris Badcock said she was stressed out after completing one of the scenarios.

“You are stressed out? Imagine doing this every day,” Bond said.

“That is as realistic as it gets,” said Sgt. Fred Jones. “We spend 12 hours a shift responding to people in crisis, and so we have to train for those types of situations.”

Not every scenario in the simulator will end peacefully. Deputies will also be tested on how they escalate their response when de-escalation and communication fail.

However, the life-like scenarios and mental muscle memory, the feedback and repetition should help them respond when they come into contact with a crisis.

“Anytime you can introduce a new tool that continues to encourage dialogue and communication, it’s a win-win,” said Jones. “It is a win for the officer. It is a win for the community.”

That simulator runs roughly $250,000, but LCSO only had to pay several hundred dollars out of pocket, thanks to a grant.

LCSO also intends to let other Lake County-area police departments train with this simulator as well, since oftentimes numerous agencies will respond to a situation if it is critical enough.

About the Author:

Award-winning investigative reporter Merris Badcock joined the News 6 team in October 2020. Merris is the recipient of a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award, a Suncoast Regional Emmy Award, four Suncoast Emmy Regional nominations, and two first-place Florida Association of Broadcast Journalists’ Awards.