New London — Police Officers Daquan Stuckey and Christina Nocito responded to a call Monday night about a domestic assault.
Unless it was a simulation.
Carrying an Oculus-like headset and a computing unit on his back, Nocito participated in the simulation as part of de-escalation training. It was the first time she used the device.
“I had to get used to what I was seeing,” Nocito said. “I kept wanting to walk down the stairs.”
With a $70,000 grant from the federal Department of Justice, the police department became the first in the state to acquire the virtual reality simulator APEX Officer. Community members got a virtual glimpse of what it means to be a police officer at a public demonstration of the system on Monday.
Sergeant Matt Cassiere made a presentation Monday before the demonstration and explained the importance of the system.
At an original price of $95,868, Cassiere said the department picked up the system for $62,500 with some upgrades and a discount.
He said the system is used for de-escalation training, use of force training and public relations. Cassiere explained that de-escalation, using nonviolent strategies and techniques, aims to reduce the intensity of a situation and obtain “voluntary consent” from someone.
He added that the system will help officers comply with the State Police Accountability Act by ensuring that “the peace officer … implements appropriate de-escalation measures before using deadly physical force.”
Police Commissioner Brian Wright said every officer, regardless of rank, has a responsibility to intervene if another officer steps out of line.
Cassiere said the system is not a game and the ultimate goal is to use it for educational purposes and training.
Officer Dave Diogo controlled the sim from a separate room while the officers in the sim stood in the common room where sensors were located. Onlookers could see what the officers were seeing on a screen but could not hear what was being said to them. Through a headset, Diogo told them what they encountered and then acted out the people they encountered.
Two security officers stood in the room with the officers in the simulation to make sure they didn’t stumble upon anything.
Two members of the community were allowed to test the system and respond to a call from a suspicious person in an abandoned factory. The situation was one that ultimately required the use of force.
Resident Samantha Ide attended and said de-escalation is the hardest thing to train and that’s why the immersive experience is so important.
Cassiere said the department has had the system for about five months and conducted its first training session in September. He said the plan is to conduct additional training and hopefully use this on a monthly basis to open de-escalation courses to other police departments.
During Monday’s session, some local residents asked Police Commissioner Brian Wright what officers should do if they feel another officer is using physical force that is unwarranted.
Wright said every officer, regardless of rank, has a responsibility to intervene when another officer steps out of line. In addition, the department investigates all incidents in which officers use force.