A Pennsylvania police department is turning to virtual reality (VR) headsets for de-escalation training in a new program funded by federal grant money.
The Central Bucks Regional Police Department (CBRPD) in Bucks County was awarded $159,037 in grant funds from the DOJ’s Community Oriented Police Services to launch the VR training program.
The CBRPD is also partnering with Buckingham, Doylestown and Plumstead Township police departments to offer de-escalation training across the region.
According to CBRPD captain and training instructor Robert Milligan, the program aims to reduce the intensity of encounters between police officers and the public by honing de-escalation tactics.
The training program uses Apex Officer, a 3D virtual reality police training simulator, to sharpen officers’ real-world skills.
“The scenarios are based on what [officers] do every day. It’s real-world, so that’s why we’re getting such positive feedback from the officers because this is something that they can use every single day that benefits them, that benefits our community, and any interaction we have,” Milligan told Fox 29.
Apex Officer, described on the company’s website as “the world’s most realistic and immersive VR force training simulator for law enforcement professionals,” also allows for unlimited training scenarios.
Instructors using the platform create scripts for real-life scenarios related to everyday police encounters, such as mental health crises, a suicidal person, a suspicious person, a domestic disturbance, a theft in progress, an unknown problem and duty to intervene in a fellow officer’s interaction.
The simulator also allows officers to choose from a variety of locations — such as an apartment complex, an alley, a supermarket and a gentlemen’s club, for example — in which to set the exercise.
Training instructors can also modify the situation, the character the officer interacts with, as well as the character’s behavior and any weapons they may be carrying to approximate a variety of real-life situations.
The goal of every officer in each scenario is to resolve the situation peacefully. They are then debriefed by an instructor after the exercise is completed.
“When you go back, and he points something out, you’re like, ‘oh yeah, wait a minute. I definitely could’ve done that different or done that a little bit better or said something else,’ so that part really helps,” said CBRPD Officer Sean Tropiano, who
also works as a VR instructor for the program.