A state-of-the-art training program in which Port Orchard Police don high-tech video headgear to immerse themselves in a virtual world is about to launch.
Officers learn how to react when someone suddenly draws a gun or when someone is going through a mental crisis. Sergeant Andy Brandon, the department’s training director, said the innovative program will complement traditional in-person training.
From March, the virtual reality training puts the officers in real video scenarios. Situations include dealing with a suicidal person, traffic stops, responding to cursory calls about domestic violence, and encounters where a taser or firearm is used, Brandon said. Officers can certainly learn even if they make mistakes. The scenarios are designed to encourage critical thinking and methods for de-escalating volatile situations, Brandon said.
A growing number of police departments have started using virtual reality training used in other professions. For example, surgeons can practice specialized operations long before a patient is on the operating table; Pilots can fly and land new planes before boarding the cockpit; and the US Army had virtual versions of North Korea to practice military scenarios.
For police, training involves an officer wearing a headset that provides a 360-degree view of a situation. Some scenarios involve actors while others include computer-generated avatars. Headphones allow trainees to hear others speak, complete with background noise — like a person walking up behind them, or someone in a passing car yelling, “Fuck those pigs!”
During an exercise, a trainee is given a number of choices. Based on decisions made by an official, the scenario can unfold in a number of ways. Some 3D sessions are recorded so that the trainer can later sit down with the participant and analyze the decision making.
During drills on the use of force, officers are equipped with replica guns and tasers. The devices can be used in situations that require quick decisions. For example, in one scenario, an officer is confronted with someone walking towards him, sometimes with that person holding a bottle, a knife, a gun – or nothing at all. The trainer must decide whether to use verbal commands, a taser or gun, or a combination, Brandon said.
In another example, an officer is in a parking lot and sees a person in another attacking him. The one below screams for help. “You have to decide what tool you’re going to use — do you use your taser on the person attacking the person to incapacitate them? Then, [the scenario] Switch and the attacked guy draws a gun. It’s an evolving event,” Brandon said.
Axon’s training system, which also supplied the Port Orchard police bodycams, also has mental illness scenarios. In one, the trainee follows in the footsteps of a person suffering from a schizophrenic episode at a crowded bus stop. “It puts you in the place of the person who is having a mental health crisis. You hear the voices in the person’s head and their suicidal thoughts. You also see how the person perceives that others are looking at them,” Brandon said.
Then the trainee switches to the officer who contacts the person. The trainee is asked a series of questions, e.g. B. whether he wants to observe the person or intervene. There are a number of ways the officer can approach that person, ranging from compassion to directing the subject to do something. Wrong decisions can cause those affected to panic. At this point the program restarts and allows the officer to make other decisions.
In order to defuse a potentially combative confrontation, the training shows ways for an officer to deal with people. “There might be a time when not confronting someone will help calm them down. Then, for some people, a demonstration of authority helps. This guides you down the path of the best interaction in different scenarios,” Brandon said.
Personal training includes live-action exercises that may include driving cars and actors shooting simulations or sophisticated paintballs at trainees. Sessions take place in places such as abandoned houses, police precincts or military bases.
Virtual training costs less than traditional training. Brandon said in-person sessions can involve up to six staff members as actors and supervisors, while virtual training can take place in an office and involves just one trainee and one supervisor. It costs nothing to shoot a taser or a firearm in the virtual world, compared to shooting nearly $1 a shot to shoot a paintball out of a handgun and $30 to shoot a taser round to fire.
Port Orchard Police plan to hold virtual training once a month and continue with in-person training every few months, Brandon said.
He said in-person training is still best, but virtual is a great way to complement it, as situations are sure to be repeated. It “gives people the opportunity to get extra reps in scenarios that they might not be able to get because we don’t always have the ability to do in-person training.”