NEW CASTLE, Del. — It started with a routine call to a house, with reported shouting from within. While the situation is based on real-life events, it is not the real world.
“It’s repetitive – training has to be second nature,” said Master Cpl. Michel Eckerd of the New Castle County Police Department in Delaware.
With about 400 officers, getting everyone continuously trained and retrained on their Axon Tasers can be expensive and time-consuming.
Enter virtual reality.
“Virtual reality actually opened up the training to 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Master Cpl. Eckerd said. “We can train you. There’s no longer calling out, waiting up for a specific training date. We don’t have to have a certified trainer because it’s right here.”
It is all in one bag: a headset, wrist bands and virtual weapons. Officer 1st Class Alie Davis helped demonstrate how it works.
“With the headset on, you see everything that you see on the screen, but you don’t see anything else,” she said. “It’s just what’s going on.”
The VR program simulated a domestic violence call with a perpetrator.
“I like wanted to back away from him the whole time,” Davis said.
While the scenario was in virtual reality, her reactions were real.
“I kept wanting to be like, ‘All right, like back up a little bit,’” she said. “And then when he did kind of come at me, I flinched.”
New Castle County and a department in Arizona are the only two police departments in the country now using virtual reality in their Taser training.
In the past, there have been incidents involving officers deploying a Taser to little effect, or worse, pulling the wrong weapon, like former Officer Kim Potter did in Minnesota, leading to the killing of Daunte Wright.
“There are minimums that are set by the council on police training,” Eckerd said. “We go further and this is going to allow us to do even more training.”
It’s not just Tasers, though – all kinds of simulated situations that an officer might encounter are also included in the virtual reality training.
There is a simulation involving an officer encountering someone with autism. The simulations are lifelike, allowing you to turn around within the virtual reality space.
As you make your way through the simulation, there are encounters with different actions that can be taken, such as “further investigate, gain compliance or check for sobriety.”
After the simulation unfolds further, more options appear, like “remove the distraction, clear the call, or locate the caregiver.”
Choosing to locate the caregiver turned out to be the right call and prevented the situation from escalating further.
An even more advanced version of the VR training is now in the pipeline, the goal is to get it out to more police departments around the county.
“The real excitement is what’s going to be coming in the future because the interactivity of this, it’s mind-boggling,” Eckerd said.
It’s all part of the design, so the lessons learned in virtual reality might pay off in the real world.