In Haiti, bullets are a precious commodity. Police officers are responsible for buying their own ammunition, which can limit the amount of firearms training officers receive.
"The things we take for granted in our training sessions in Canada — like munitions — aren't as accessible here," says Cpl. Daniel Laberge, an RCMP peacekeeper on his third deployment to the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).
For the past year, Laberge and Sgt. François Dubeau from the Sûreté du Québec have worked with the Haitian Coast Guard — a branch of the Haitian National Police (HNP) — to help them improve their firearms skills.
With no budget for ammunition, the pair had to get creative. Using a little bit of ingenuity and their own funds, they created a virtual shooting simulator to help local officers practise their firearms skills.
"I feel like a MacGyver," says Dubeau, who's also on his third MINUSTAH mission. He helped come up with the idea, and paid for all the parts of the simulator. "It's my way of investing in the HNP. It's exhilarating and gratifying to feel like you've accomplished something for these people."
The virtual shooting simulator can be used inside and outdoors, allowing officers to practise realistic firearm encounters. A laser cartridge is fitted into the barrel of an officer's firearm, and a computer program measures the accuracy of each shot on a paper target.
The simulator is easily transportable and costs about $1,000 — much less than providing munitions to the entire coast guard for training.
"It's low cost and a good way to improve officer skills," says Laberge. "This system will improve safety, security and aim so that when an officer takes out their weapon, they make the right decisions and shoot more accurately."
Laberge and Dubeau are now taking this technology beyond the coast guard, offering it to the HNP training academy. They hope to set up more simulators for basic recruit training and firearms instructor training.
"Instead of going through boxes and boxes of bullets, they can hone their skills on this tool," says Laberge. "Every HNP officer in the country can benefit from this — from the street cop to specialized police officers."