Several law enforcement agencies in Wisconsin are leveraging virtual reality (VR) simulations to enhance de-escalation and use-of-force training.
According to a WPR report, the Superior and Racine police departments, along with the Racine County Sheriff’s Office, are investing in the VR technology to create realistic training simulations.
The Superior Police Department has partnered with Survivr, a Dallas-based virtual reality development company, to incorporate immersive VR training technology.
Trainees wear a VR headset that displays 3D images of real-world environments and objects that officers may encounter in the field, as well as realistic replicas of weapons and other items officers carry. The simulations offer a variety of different scenarios, including dealing with someone experiencing a mental health crisis, traffic stops, burglaries and active shootings. To enhance the real-world connections, the scenarios also allow officers to hone their de-escalation skills by conversing and interacting with suspects, victims and witnesses, similar to how they would communicate with real people while on duty.
Chief Nick Alexander hopes the $82,000 investment will reinforce current de-escalation training.
“We try to gear these training scenarios so that if officers use effective verbalization and communication and de-escalation, they can resolve those situations without the use of force,” Alexander said. “We try to build those positive outcomes as much as possible.”
Wisconsin’s adoption of the VR tech comes after increased police scrutiny and a push for industry reforms following the protests sparked by George Floyd’s death last year. Since then, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers has signed bills into law banning chokeholds, increasing reporting of use-of-force incidents and requiring the publishing of use-of-force policies.
Alexander said that each of the department’s 50 officers will undergo many more training scenarios than they would be able to complete before, and at less cost.
“Now that we have the equipment here, we have been training officers on duty, which is a cost savings because almost all of our scenario-based training before occurred at overtime where the officer came in on their days off and did it,” he said. “Now, because of the ease of setup of this equipment, the realism of the scenarios, we can pull officers who are on duty off the street temporarily, run them through a couple scenarios in 15–20 minutes, and then they can go back and work their shifts.”
The Racine Police Department is also harnessing the power of virtual reality. They purchased a different style of VR technology, the V-180 simulator from Arizona manufacturer VirTra. The simulator uses three large screens and an immersive training environment to simulate law enforcement and military scenarios, including de-escalation and use-of-force training.
Sergeant Kevin Sell with the department’s training unit said that the technology has been rewarding so far. He has seen officers improve their communication and decision-making skills during high-stress scenarios, such as crisis intervention and use-of-force-related situations.
“One of our goals of this training was to put them in difficult/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 stress-induced, reality-based scenario and given their brain the opportunity to process this in a safe place,” Sell said in an email.
The Racine County Sheriff’s Office embraced VR training last year after receiving a system from Arizona-based Axon Enterprise as part of a $2 million package purchased by the county that included tasers, body cameras, storage and the VR system for their close to 300 deputies and corrections officers.
Similar to Survivr, the system uses VR headsets to artificially create a range of scenarios for officers to respond to, including many that train participants in recognizing and responding to specific mental health crises.
“We can take these difficult situations that at times go wrong. We see it throughout the country,” said Lieutenant James Evans. “But, [the training allows] our officers to get the reps and the practice before they’re actually engaged with a real person.”