The attractiveness of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (RA) is often in tension with more serious applications and necessary business models. Law enforcement departments, for example, are increasingly considering the use of RA and VR in various training applications. However, there is a risk of a technological “push”, in which developers wish to enter a new market sector and actively sell products to new users, with insufficient preliminary efforts to ensure that the content responds directly to the needs of users.
As many companies suggest, AR and VR may play an important role in the future of policing and promise to increase and improve law enforcement training. Of course, police departments have been using virtual environments for years, but older systems tend to be relatively large and often only play a series of films to get reactions in training. These can take up significant space, may lack accessibility and availability (relative to today’s smaller hardware) and may have a significant cost, making systems unavailable to smaller departments. This last point is especially important, as approximately half of all local U.S. police departments work less than the equivalent of ten officers. But new virtual reality and virtual reality technologies can solve these problems.
Many companies are developing virtual content to help law enforcement build empathy, de-escalation, responding to shoot / not shoot situations, and so on. These topics are especially relevant to recent events and can help address serious issues with training. RA and virtual reality could increase accessibility and therefore increase training repetitions. In addition to training, AR and VR can help review and analyze complex crime scenes that involve large amounts of data in a variety of ways. AR and VR could also provide advanced information to agents, in order to raise awareness of the situation before reaching a scene.
Despite the potential benefits of these many applications, there is a risk that the industry will focus on the newly accessible police market just for the sake of increasing market share. Historically, AR and VR were exciting technologies that sought applications. Now, there are apparent and practical applications, but there may still be a tendency to push technology by leveraging its “cool” factor instead of properly leveraging its value. To increase its value for law enforcement, rather than virtual content that only attracts the buyer, it can also respond directly to the specific needs of the user, especially when used for training. Content could be assigned to specific training objectives (task and skills). As noted in a RAND study, fidelity, for example, may not be as simple as possible, but could be tailored to specific use.
Because the law enforcement market is relatively small (compared to the entertainment market from which AR and VR grew, for example), having fewer users for specific law enforcement content could mean that developers have to charge relatively high prices. Departmental budgets may not support the acquisition of sufficient hardware, let alone properly designed content that meets localized training needs. Video games are relatively inexpensive, in part because there are millions of users, but there are no millions of police departments. This means that smaller RA / VR companies may have difficulty entering the market. In addition, even larger companies may have to leverage other internal resources to bear the costs of entering the market. Ultimately, while the potential benefits are significant, the business model for using AR / VR to support nationwide law enforcement is not necessarily straightforward.
Ensuring that augmented reality and virtual reality content meets the needs of users and ensuring that there is a business model that encourages the industry, but allows access to all police departments, are complex policy issues. and challenging. While sometimes politics and its implementation may fall by the wayside in the face of exciting technological developments, in this case, the best policy can be considered as technology matures, not later.