http://m.usatoday.com/article/news/1811053 FBI focuses firearms training on close-quarters combat by Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY Published: 01/06/2013 09:34am QUANTICO, Va. — The FBI has quietly broken with its long-standing firearms training regimen, putting a new emphasis on close-quarters combat to reflect the overwhelming number of incidents in which suspects are confronting their targets at point-blank range. The new training protocols were formally implemented last January after a review of nearly 200 shootings involving FBI agents during a 17-year period. The analysis found that 75% of the incidents involved suspects who were within 3 yards — in most cases less than 9 feet — of agents when shots were exchanged. The move represents a dramatic shift for the agency, which for more than three decades has relied on long-range marksmanship training. Apart from the new shooting regimen, agents also are being exposed to technology borrowed from Hollywood in which they can apply skills acquired on the shooting range to virtual scenarios involving the pursuit of armed suspects in schools, office buildings, apartment complexes and other potential targets. The virtual simulation technology, developed by Georgia-based Motion Reality, won a 2005 Academy Award for technical achievement in character animation. The motion-capture technology was used in The Polar Express and The Lord of the Rings. In its law enforcement adaptation, virtual scenarios are fed from computers in agents' backpacks to viewfinders that transform an empty room into virtual worlds where agents are pitted against animated armed suspects — many of them in close-range encounters. John Wilson, chief of the FBI's virtual simulation program, says the system also is capable of "negatively rewarding" trainees' bad decisions by transmitting jolts to their bodies that simulate gunshots. "The thing that jumps out at you from the (shooting incident) research is that if we're not preparing agents to get off three to four rounds at a target between 0 and 3 yards, then we're not preparing them for what is likely to happen in the real world," says FBI training instructor Larry "Pogo" Akin, who helps supervise trainees on the live shooting range. The FBI's research predates more recent fatal shootings of local law enforcement officers, many of whom were victims of close-range ambush attacks while answering calls for service or serving warrants. A Justice Department analysis of 63 killings of local police in 2011 found that 73% were ambush or execution-style assaults. Bud Colonna, chief of the FBI's Firearms Training Unit, says the circumstances involving the local law enforcement fatalities added "a lot of weight" to the changes ultimately implemented by the FBI. Colonna said FBI Director Robert Mueller personally oversaw the live firearm training changes, meeting with instructors at the bureau's sprawling training facility here and taking part in the actual shooting drills. Until last January, the pistol-qualification course required agents to participate in quarterly exercises in which they fired 50 rounds, more than half of them from between 15 and 25 yards. The new course involves 60 rounds, with 40 of those fired from between 3 and 7 yards. The new exercise also requires that agents draw their weapons from concealed positions, usually from holsters shielded by jackets or blazers, to mimic their traditional plainclothes dress in the field. Training analysts say the FBI's new emphasis reflects a growing movement by law enforcement agencies across the country to prepare for encounters with armed suspects in schools, office buildings and other locations where officers are now being trained to pursue shooters — often in close quarters — in an attempt to limit potential casualties. "After Columbine, it became very common for law enforcement agencies to speak about the need for active shooter training," says Scott Knight, former chairman of the International Association of Chiefs of Police's Firearms Committee. Knight, also police chief in Chaska, Minn., referred to the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Colorado that left 12 students, one teacher and the two gunmen dead. "With their findings, the FBI has determined that they are confronting these (close-range encounters) and need to be prepared for them," Knight said. The new live-fire training is separate from the virtual simulation unit, housed in a converted storage room in Quantico since its launch in February. But the missions of both training units underscore the new emphasis on armed confrontations in close quarters. The simulator can host up to six agents at a time, each fully "immersed" in scenarios in which agents' movements are captured by a network of ceiling cameras. Immediately after the exercises, video is displayed on large screens in an adjoining classroom where agents' performances are subject to detailed critiques by instructors. The lessons are crucial. For now, the system serves to teach agents the proper way to enter and clear rooms in search of potential suspects, confront armed assailants and determine when deadly force is appropriate. "When you are in these exercises, people forget that these are virtual scenarios," says Tom McLaughlin, Motion Reality's chief executive. "The brain believes this is real. We make these to be as close as you would find in the real world." In the screening room, there is no hiding from poor decision-making and improper technique, because almost every angle of each exercise scenario can be analyzed. Wilson says the simulation has been invaluable. But he is just as excited about the technology's untapped potential. The system can build in blueprints and schematics of any known suspect hideout or hostage location. Once built, the system would allow agents to train before launching operations against suspected targets. Until now, rehearsals for some major operations required the full or partial physical construction of target locations. Last month, Wilson says, the FBI's elite Hostage Rescue Team, whose members have been deployed throughout the world, began using the simulator. "The possibilities are endless," Wilson says.