Across America, police departments are trying to better serve everyone in their jurisdictions by requiring their officers to work in less confrontational and more culture-sensitive ways.
Achieving this goal is not an easy task, given the hostility and violence they face daily in the police. That’s why agencies like the Sacramento Police Department (SPD) in California use virtual reality-based training scenarios to let officers work in dangerous situations safely so they can get used to choosing and using these new techniques. in real life situations.
“We are using RV for critical decision making, judgment training and climbing training,” said Lt. Zachary Bales, head of the SPD’s Research and Development and Continuing Education Unit. “Virtual reality allows us to create all those different training environments without all the costs associated with doing so in physical environments, beyond the price of the system and preparing instructional videos.”
The SPD decided to improve his training after the 2018 Stephon Clark police shooting. He was a 22-year-old black man who was shot seven times by two SPD officers looking for a suspect involved in burglaries. vehicles.
Use RV in training
To try to avoid tragedies such as the shooting of Stephon Clark, the SPD uses the VR-DT (Virtual Reality Decisions and Tactics) training system conducted by InVeris Training Solutions, which was provided to him by the State Commission and other police departments. California. Rules and training of peace officers (POST).
The VR-DT system allows agents who are in a fixed location to interact with computer training videos produced by the SPD. They do this while wearing wireless VR headsets that track their movement in immersive 360-degree 3D environments.
The SPD coach who controls the training session can switch between various video streams depending on the decisions the VR student makes, to provide “consequences” for their decisions. In some circumstances, the coach may even provide the voice for the characters interacting. These sessions can be recorded so that participants ’results can be reported and get tips for better results next time.
Despite the use of VR headsets, the actual content created in these sessions is similar to traditional in-person physical training. This is no coincidence: “In both circumstances, we develop training goals,” Lieutenant Bales said. “We develop a script for everyone on stage except the participant, such as the“ suspects ”and the“ witnesses. ”And we plan the paths that the stage can take, based on the options the learner selects. “.
The power of repetition
There is nothing like repetition to reduce an officer’s reaction to stressful scenarios. Dealing with the same situation repeatedly reduces their physiological reactions and allows the employee to be more calm and thoughtful in their responses. Add to that the fact that repetition allows only taught behaviors to become commonplace, giving young officers veteran experience, and you can see why coaches use this technique so much.
Virtual reality training allows the SPD to harness the power of repetition.
“We can get several repetitions of training scenarios, with post-action reviews, in a fast and effective way,” Lt. Bales said. “This allows our officers to see what happens when they choose different options while reducing their responses to stress due to repetition.”
This type of desensitization training is already being used by the military to help soldiers think calmly and clearly in life-threatening circumstances.
A promising start
At the time of writing, the SPD was still tweaking its virtual reality rain process. As a result, the system still had to be deployed to full force or generate tangible results to build trust with the public.
“We continue to work on‘ coach training ’and develop our RV program in the SPD training division,” Lieutenant Bales said. “But so far everyone who has been around the training has had a very positive response.”
Meanwhile, after relaxing the restrictions of COVID-19, the SPD plans to invite community and media leaders to experience its virtual reality training system, to increase public confidence and demonstrate that the department’s commitment to de-escalation is being implemented.
As for SPD advice to other departments considering virtual reality training?
“First you have to define the goals you want to achieve and then determine if the RV will help you get there,” Lieutenant Bales said. “For example, the RV is not ideal for the formation of aim. But it’s useful for enabling agents to improve their decision-making and judgment skills in real-life situations, without anyone putting themselves at risk. “
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