Two uniformed law enforcement officers stand in front of a VirTra V-300 firearms training simulator.
The Virtra V-300 firearms training simulator will be used by the Richland County Sheriff's Office. (VirTra Inc. photo)

MANSFELD — Improved staffing levels. Two new K-9 units. Better countywide radio communication. And with the approval of Richland County commissioners on Tuesday, a new firearms simulator to train deputies in de-escalation techniques and appropriate use of force.

Richland County Sheriff Steve Sheldon said he’s pleased with the status of the department, which he has led since 2004, after his retirement from the Mansfield Police Department.

“I’m very thankful for all the cooperation that we get from so many people like the (county) commissioners and (county administrator) Andrew (Keller) and Captain (Jim) Sweat, and of course my chief deputy (Major Joe Masi).

Richland County Sheriff Steve Sheldon
Richland County Sheriff Steve Sheldon. (Richland Source file photo)

“Everybody working together sure makes things go a lot smoother and lets us move forward with what our goals are. Department wise, I think we’re in very good shape,” Sheldon said.

The sheriff said the law enforcement section is now fully staffed and the 9-1-1 program is nearly fully staffed.

“The only problem we’re having is in the jail. We’ve been short in the jail for 10 years. It’s been a nonstop effort to get people on the corrections staff. You’ll hire one or two, and then one will leave. Then you’ll hire three and then four will leave. It’s just a back-and-forth thing,” Sheldon said.

“We’re very, very happy with the staff that we have. We’re very happy with the new hires that we’ve had recently. We think that the quality of people that we’re getting in the jail is very good,” the sheriff said.

Commissioners in May approved using $192,353 in American Rescue Plan Act funds for the new simulator project, which will be installed at the RCSO offices inside the Peoples Building at 597 Park Ave. East.

The contract includes two years of technical support for the project.

ARPA purchase project required extra steps

Keller said Tuesday it just took time to work through the legal steps required to expend the ARPA funds for the project through VirTra Inc., the company that will provide its V-300 firearms training simulator.

“Because this is a purchase with restricted ARPA funds, it certainly is subject to the highest procurement standards,” said Keller, an attorney.

“Initially, VirTra was going to be purchased off of the GSA, that’s the federal General Services Administration. (VirTra) indicated that they had a contract with the GSA.

“When we looked more closely, we recognized that not all of the deliverables were covered by the GSA contract and for that reason, we weren’t able to proceed using the GSA contract.

Richland County Administrator Andrew Keller
Richland County administrator Andrew Keller (Richland Source file photo)

“Since that time, we have found a different route to go using Ohio Revised Code Section 9.48-D, which allows counties to enter into contracts through national purchasing cooperatives. That’s ultimately how we entered into this contract,” Keller said.

“This has been the product of several months of the sheriff’s office due diligence,” the county administrator said, adding the department looked at several models of simulators before settling on VirTra.

“It’s a highly rated and fully immersive training program (in which) you’re surrounded by screens, surrounded by audio. You are confronted with real-time threats. And deputies are required to make professional split-second decisions in this virtual training process.

“It’s going to continue to help the sheriff as they work to have the best trained sheriff’s office around and we’re excited about it,” Keller said.

Informal approval for effort came in May

Commissioners approved the effort in May after a presentation from Steven DiIullo, a former law enforcement officer and the regional sales manager for VirTra Inc., the company that will provide its V-300 firearms training simulator.

According to the company website, the V-300 “was the world’s first 300-degree law enforcement reality-based situational training simulator that continues to advance and remains the highest standard of LE training.

“This intense, immersive training environment takes into account every detail from the smallest pre-attack indicators to the most cognitive overload stimuli situations imaginable,” the website said.

“This judgmental use of force and decision-making training simulator is designed to teach, test, and sustain trainees’ and seasoned officers’ knowledge and skills.”

The Mansfield Police Department began using similar technology several months ago through the Multiple Interactive Learning Objectives (MILO) system, now being used by the Mansfield Police Department.

Both systems provide virtual training for situations officers and deputies face on the streets, though DiIullo said ViaTra offers the ability to train more officers at one time and provides more accurate feedback.

He said it also allows officers to use their own service weapons — including handguns, tasers and rifles.

Richland County Sheriff's Office Capt. Jim Sweat
Richland County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Jim Sweat (Richland Source file photo)

Sweat said in May what makes VirTra more attractive for the RCSO is it allows more opportunity to create its own training scenarios, including the jail setting.

“We have more corrections officers than we do deputies on the street,” Sweat said in May.

“In our own scenarios, we can use a green-screen function where we can literally put the backgrounds of our own jail facility into the scenario so that the corrections officers will be seeing what they truly see at the jail,” Sweat said Tuesday.

Sweat said VirTra has content already approved by for the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy that meet requirements for continued professional training, including mental health scenarios.

The three-panel simulator will also allow the RCSO to spend less on live ammunition for training and may also result in lower costs for its liability insurance, he said.

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