Some Wisconsin law enforcement agencies use virtual reality training to improve response

Some Wisconsin law enforcement agencies are using virtual reality simulations to help officers hone their skills to eliminate crisis situations, as police training has been subjected to continued control over the use of force.

The Superior and Racine Police Departments, as well as the Racine County Sheriff’s Office, are among statewide agencies that use RVs to train officers.

At Superior, police have recently begun using a virtual reality training simulator offered by the Dallas-based company, Survivr. Officers use a VR headset that displays 3D scans and screenshots of real-world objects as part of training simulations that include replicas of weapons or objects that agents bring to the field. Agents can go through scenarios ranging from responding to a person experiencing a mental health crisis to a mass shooting.

Police Chief Nick Alexander said the $ 82,000 system will expand current training on decalcification and implicit bias for officers.

“We try to prepare these training scenarios so that, if officers use effective verbalization, communication, and decalcification, they can resolve these situations without using force,” Alexander said. “We try to generate as many positive results as possible.”

Law enforcement training was monitored during the trial against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of the murder of George Floyd and sentenced to 22 1/2 years in prison. A recent city audit of the Minneapolis Police Department’s system for training officers found coaches and new officers sometimes operated under little supervision, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

In Wisconsin, a bipartisan task force proposed changes to police this spring to address police oversight, officer training and the use of force. Gov. Tony Evers recently signed bills that would prohibit police protection with limited exceptions, force police to report incidents when force is used, and require police to issue policies using force. The state Senate has also passed a bill that would establish a uniform policy of the use of force in Wisconsin.

With the addition of VR training, Alexander expects each of the department’s approximately 50 officers to go through dozens of more training scenarios than they could complete now.

“Now that we have the team here, we’ve been training on-duty officers, which means cost savings, because almost all of our scenario-based training used to take place in overtime where the officer came in on days off and so on. he did, ”he said. Alexander. “Now, due to the ease of installation of this equipment, the realism of the scenarios, we can temporarily remove the agents who are on guard from the street, make them go through a couple of scenarios in 15-20 minutes and then go back and work your shifts. “

Alexander said the program, which includes automatic character responses, allows coaches to take control of people within scenarios to test agents ’response.

Wisconsin requires sworn officers to receive at least 24 hours of recertification training each year. The Superior Police Chief said he is striving to set the bar higher, even by offering fair and impartial police training for all officers.

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The Racine police department began using Arizona-based manufacturer VirTra’s V-180 simulator last March, which uses several large screens and an immersive training environment. Sergeant. Kevin Sell, with the department’s training unit, said they have seen how agents improve communication and decision-making skills as they go through crisis intervention and force use scenarios.

“One of our goals in this training was to place them in difficult or stressful situations so that when they are asked to do so in real life, they have already gone through several of these options in a scenario based on the stress-induced reality and given your brain the opportunity to process it in a safe place, ”Sell wrote in an email.

The Racine County Sheriff’s Office began using a virtual reality training system provided by Arizona-based company Axon Enterprise. Lt. James Evans said the system was part of a package of about $ 2 million the county bought to provide tasers, body cameras and storage for its nearly 300 deputies and correctional officers.

Like Survivr, the system uses virtual reality headsets where agents go through various scenarios that include responding to a person with suicidal ideation, an autistic person, and a person experiencing a schizophrenic episode.

“We can take on these difficult situations that sometimes go wrong. We see it all over the country,” Evans said. “But, (training allows) our officers to get the reps and practice before they are really engaged to a real person.”

He said the training is beneficial to law enforcement because it allows them to move between the perspective of the officer and the perspective of the people they interact with.

“The ability for officers to see a different perspective cannot be undersold,” Evans said. “This is extraordinarily valuable.”

A 2018 study by researchers at Stanford University found a virtual reality scenario about what it would be like for a person to lose their home and helped participants develop more lasting compassion for the homeless. Other researchers have warned that using virtual reality to help people empathize with others may not achieve the desired effect, depending on a person’s perception of whether a person’s situation is really that bad. .

Agents who go through each scenario are presented with a variety of options on what to say or do during their interactions and can repeat encounters when they make a mistake in correcting their decisions.

While most scenarios focus on de-escalation, Evans noted that training is being made available on the duty of officers to intervene after three Minneapolis police officers were on the sidelines and saw Floyd murdered. last spring.

Technology is not intended to replace other forms of training, but agents say it can be a useful tool with proper supervision and feedback for those receiving training. Law enforcement agencies expect the trainings to develop better skills and responses among agents that will take root over time.

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