Dedication of the Danville Police Department. Photo by Grace Mamon.

The new Danville Police Department building is a major upgrade. Not only is it over four times bigger than the previous space, it also has technology that only exists in two other police departments in the western half of the state. 

The Multiple Interactive Learning Objectives simulator, or MILO, is a use-of-force simulation that can be used to train incoming police officers. 

“You’ll have scenarios of shoot/don’t shoot,” said Lt. Col. Dean Hairston, deputy police chief. “You’ll get a gun that looks like yours, but it will interact with the projector.”

Hairston said a woman in the simulation might tell you that a man is threatening her with a gun. The man, lying on a couch, might jump up and point a gun at you. 

“Or he might point the remote control,” Hairston said. “You have to determine whether to shoot or not shoot.”

The MILO simulator is a $30,000 system that the Danville Police Department purchased with grant funding from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant. 

This grant is the primary source of federal justice funding to state and local jurisdictions. It provides money for a variety of programs including law enforcement, prosecution, courts and crime prevention.

The Danville police department announced the MILO purchase and grant funding in January. 

There are 18 police departments or sheriff’s offices that have a MILO system in Virginia, according to a list from Lawrence Kehoe, training content specialist at MILO. 

But 15 of those are in Northern Virginia, Richmond or Hampton Roads areas. 

In the western part of the state, only the Danville Police Department, the Blacksburg Police Department and the Covington City Police Department have MILO simulators. 

These numbers do not include private businesses, training facilities, schools or other organizations that might have a simulator. 

However, when those organizations are included, there are more than 60 MILO systems in Virginia – and less than 10 in the southwestern part of the state, said Amanda Williams, cognitive division manager at MILO. 

This means that the Danville department has technology that doesn’t exist in other, bigger cities in the region. 

The MILO simulator room. Photo by Grace Mamon.

The simulator is located in a room on the bottom floor of the new police department. There’s a large projector screen at one end of the room, which is otherwise mostly empty space. When the simulation is running, the room will be completely dark and a scenario will be projected on the screen. 

The model weapons for the simulation interact with the on-screen projection. They have a very similar look and feel to the weapons that police officers carry on them or in the back of their vehicles, Hairston said. 

The MILO website describes this simulation as “immersive” and “emotionally intense.”

“In order to be prepared for the real complexity of their jobs, law enforcement needs the opportunity to train in realistic, open-ended scenarios – ones that test their situational awareness and where all of their de-escalation and force options are on the table,” the website says.

The replica weapons that officers use in the simulator. Photo by Grace Mamon.

This system will be a major factor in changing the way the Danville police look at use of force, one of the department’s goals, said Police Chief Scott Booth at the new building’s soft opening Aug. 19. 

“Now we have training space for a use-of-force simulator, so we can work further and faster to change how officers approach use of force by using de-escalation,” Booth said. “That’s a big part of what we’re doing.”

While the primary function of the MILO simulator will be training, the department can also hold events to invite citizens and politicians to use the simulator. 

“Once people go through it, they have a greater understanding and they’re far more sympathetic to the plight of the officer when they have to make a split-second decision,” Hairston said. “We want you to put yourself in the officer’s shoes and we want you to see what it’s like when you’re in a situation.”

Such an event is scheduled for Sept. 27, when the community’s youth can come in and use the MILO simulator. This event, called Pass the Perspective, will be hosted by Cpl. Sylvia Brooks, the department’s youth engagement officer. 

To sign up to be in the Pass the Perspective program, call Brooks at 434-797-8898 ext. 4. 

“We want our citizens to experience our officers’ training simulation,” said a press release about Pass the Perspective. “This helps provide a deeper understanding of how officers make split-second decisions in very high-pressure situations.”

Bringing in members of the community was much less feasible in the former police department space. 

The department operated in 12,000 square feet of space scattered in different locations until a few weeks ago. But primarily, the department was located in the basement of the municipal building, where it had been based since 1926. 

Hairston said he worked for 20 years without windows in his office. 

This new space is in the former Dan River executive office, which was rehabilitated using historic tax credits. It is 57,000 square feet and has amenities and technology that the department was lacking. 

The $18 million project was a collaboration between the city of Danville and developer Ed Walker. Hairston was the project director. 

On a scale of 1 to 10, the old building’s security was a zero, Hairston said. 

Now, there is ballistic glass around the front desk of the department, which can stop a high-powered rifle, and controlled entry on all outside doors.

In the past, “we’ve had people come in and throw bricks through the regular glass,” or assault officers at the front desk, Hairston said. “That wouldn’t happen here. The worst thing we’ll suffer over here is harsh language.”

The new building also has gun boxes in the hallways in case of an emergency, a gym and locker room for officers, and a multipurpose room for events with the community. 

The department is working on building a closed circuit television station in the new building, so police can monitor an event without having to saturate the area with officers, Hairston said. 

These features will allow the new department to reach its potential, something it was unable to do in the old building, Booth said. There was no meeting space to bring community members in to problem solve, nowhere for officers to change into or out of their uniforms, no training space for new recruits. 

Over the past three years, Danville has seen a 50% reduction in violent crime. And that change happened while the department was working with substandard space and tools, Booth said. 

“We are an incredible department without these things,” he said. “What could we be if we had the tools? I’m here to tell you today, now we have the tools.”

The new address for the police department is 1 Community Way, an indication that the department and the community are unified, Booth said. 

There will be a grand opening of the building for the public sometime in October, said Jennifer Bowles, public relations specialist for the department. As of Aug. 30, all police department operations are officially housed in the new location. 

The new space is finally equivalent to the level of service that the Danville Police Department provides to citizens every day, Bowles said. 

And training space, including the MILO simulator, will be instrumental in helping the department grow. 

“Our new headquarters will be an excellent tool for retention, recruiting and for our hiring of new officers,” Bowles said.

Grace Mamon

Grace Mamon is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach her at grace@cardinalnews.org.