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Simulator helps criminal justice students with a better shot at employment
Public safety student Alexis Sutton uses the University of North Georgia’s new firearms simulator Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018. The simulator allows students to earn law enforcement certification from the Georgia Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) Council simultaneously with the public safety degree. - photo by FCN regional staff

Scanning the simulator’s screen, University of North Georgia junior Alexis Sutton encountered a man sitting at a loading dock with a gun. He told her, “There’s nothing left,” as she asked him repeatedly to drop the weapon.

Seconds later, shots are fired and the simulation stopped.

“That’s a really tough scenario,” UNG public safety academy director Butch Newkirk said. “They have to make a split-second decision.”

UNG has taught its first class on the simulator as part of its criminal justice program, which helps students to train for the Georgia Peace Officers Standards and Training Council’s law enforcement certification.

Newkirk said many of the students he has taught have never fired a weapon before, which allowed him to curb bad habits before they start.

“They may have the academy for a week in firearms. We get them up here for a whole semester and just teach them techniques over and over,” Newkirk said.

The simulator is housed on the Dahlonega campus next to the print services. From a control room behind the student, Newkirk can run different scenarios involving different weapons, locations and types of threats.

“We can make him give up. We can make him run away. We can make him come at them,” Newkirk said.

The program will allow students to get certified on pistols, the patrol rifle, pepper spray, baton and Taser.

“That makes them highly marketable, because usually they may get pepper spray but the others they don’t get until they leave the academy and go to the department. The departments have to pay for all this stuff,” Newkirk said.

Citing a study from 2015, UNG professor Brent Paterline said 78 percent of students got a job at the place where they interned. The program requires 320 hours at a law enforcement agency or district attorney’s office.

“There’s no other university in the nation that you can get a four-year degree and you’re a certified police officer,” he said.