Sonoma County Sheriff's officials made a pitch to members of the county's Community and Local Law Enforcement Task Force Monday for an expensive virtual reality tool they said would help improve deputies' response to serious incidents requiring use of force.
Their central recommendation called for a computer-run simulator developed by a Tempe, Ariz., company that trains police how to react to hundreds of different law enforcement scenarios.
The program projects digital images on three screens, giving a "180-degree immersive training platform," according to the company's website. It costs about $100,000, according to the Sheriff's Office.
But while members of the task force said they could see value in such a training program, they put off any action on the recommendations, saying they wanted more information and to give the public a chance to give feedback.
"It sounds good," said task force member Carolyn Lopez. "But I think we all felt we needed to hear more about it."
Lopez and others said they wanted the Sheriff's Office to take a closer look at the way it trained officers, especially in the area of cultural sensitivity.
The community task force was created by the county last year after the fatal shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by a sheriff's deputy.
The panel's goal is to help the county address issues that arose in the aftermath, including law enforcement's use of lethal force.
Monday's presentation served as one part of the Sheriff's Office's response on how it could improve the way deputies respond in situations that require the use of force.
The nearly two-hour presentation by Sheriff's Sgt. Jim Naugle and Capt. Robert Giordano included a rundown on how the office trains its deputies.
Naugle said the number of "use of force" events countywide was small: Out of 89,000 "interactions" by authorities with the public last year, only 319 involved use of force, he said.
"It's not as common as the public thinks," he said. "But we're always looking to improve all aspects of training and find ways to be better at our jobs and to keep everybody safer."
Along with the virtual simulator program, the Sheriff's Office recommended the acquisition of 30 more 40mm "impact projectile launchers," weapons that fire foam and soft rubber rounds. Naugle said the weapon was standard equipment for tactical or SWAT teams but there were only about five of them available to patrol deputies in the county.
A staff report said the weapons were expensive but did not provide figures. Naugle said he did not have the figures Monday night.
Members of the task force said they were concerned that the recommendations were not the best solution. Some said law enforcement needed greater focus on community policing and diversity training.
"The point is we have to try and find ways to use less-than-lethal force," panel member Jose Casta?da said. "I have grave concerns about the time spent on cultural diversity training. We need to address that first."
You can reach Staff Writer Elizabeth M. Cosin at 521-5276 or elizabeth.cosin