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Practicing for the Unexpected

When seconds count, training matters
By Paul Koscak

A participant experiences the tension of real-life incidents inside CBP’s use-of-force simulator. Photo by Josh Denmark


Picture an officer reacting to an incident, and an instructor critiquing the result. That happens as dozens of incidents are played out in CBP’s use-of-force simulator.

This powerful tool with its five screens replicates the landscape, sights and sounds of the field with the clarity, fidelity and depth of an IMAX theater. But in this interactive movie, trainees control the ending as their judgment is put to the test.

"It will draw you in quickly," said Peter Lobur, one of the directorate’s assistant directors.

Achieving that level of realism can involve months of planning, site visits and video editing. But the details are there, right down to the puffs of dirt kicked up from bullets slamming into the ground.

Actors play roles in these prerecorded dramas - a bystander, a rock thrower, a shooter, a confrontational subject - compelling participants to choose the appropriate level-of-force.

Sessions last from 30 seconds to two and a half minutes can accommodate up to four people and replayed just like instant replay at a football game. Afterward, instructors evaluate the outcome in Socratic-style debriefings requiring participants to justify their actions," said Lobur. Constitutional law and DHS and CBP force policy is also reviewed.

Scenarios may involve:
  • A narcotics interdiction
  • An illegal alien interdiction
  • An armed bandit encounter
  • A stolen vehicle stop
  • An airport encounter with a mentally disturbed person

And they’re lifelike. Just ask the participants.

Spokane Sector Border Patrol Agent Derek Haynes worked with a partner practicing cover techniques. "It was the most realistic training I’ve had," he said. "Extremely interactive."

"Completely immersive," noted Jason Wagner, a Tucson, Arizona, Border Patrol agent. Thrust into an urban environment for just a minute and a half was enough to get his heart pounding and his breathing rushed, he said.

Considering how the simulator quickly builds experience and the lives it potentially saves, the investment is priceless. CBP operates 27 simulators.

Locations are Arizona: Tucson, Yuma, Nogales; California: San Diego, El Centro, Los Angeles; Florida: Miami; Georgia: Atlanta; Illinois: Chicago; Louisiana: New Orleans; Maine: Houlton; Michigan: Detroit; Montana: Havre; New York: Buffalo, Massena; North Dakota: Grand Forks; Puerto Rico: Ramey; Texas: El Paso (2), Rio Grande Valley, Laredo, Big Bend, Del Rio, Hidalgo; Vermont: Swanton; Washington: Spokane, Blaine


Last Modified: January 4, 2022