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Albemarle adopts virtual reality training for police

Virtual Reality Training
Albemarle County has purchased two virtual reality units for training police officers.

The Apex Officer Virtual Simulator puts police into scenarios that allow them to practice crisis intervention, de-escalation and use of force. Trainees wear a small backpack and a headset that allows them to interact with people and places in three dimensions using dummy guns and tasers. In another room, a trainer using a lap top speaks for the virtual characters, manipulates their facial expressions and guides the scenario in different directions, depending on what the trainee does.

The police department in Barnstable, Massachusetts has used the system for more than two years. One of their detectives, Kevin Connolly, is featured in a company video.

“This software, this training equipment is game changing," he says. "You can do everything – shooting range, mental health issue. You can do domestic violence, active shooter stuff, school shooters, all that stuff you can learn with one piece of equipment, and every person who has jumped in an tried it so far, after about five minutes they’re fully immersed in that world, and when something bad happens they’re heart races, the pulse quickens, and they are there, and they have to react. It’s just so different from looking at a TV screen and playing a video game.”

He adds that plenty of scenarios are routine and do not involve the use of force.

“Every scenario doesn’t have to be a shoot or don’t shoot scenario. Put them on a couple of car stops. They go fine. Go to a domestic, the people are compliant. They make an arrest, and that’s the end of the training for the day. You shouldn’t be training it’s always bad.”

Hardware and software cost Albemarle police $70,000 for two training units. Lt. Tripp Martin says so far they’ve proven popular with officers.

"We have a lot of younger officers here, so we probably have a lot who have tried a virtual simulator on their own at home," he says. "With the department we’ve probably put 25-30 officers through the simulator at this point."

Sessions begin with background information and case law. Each ends with debriefing on how officers did. The program is portable and can be used in small spaces for short periods of time, creating many opportunities for year-round training.

Sandy Hausman is Radio IQ's Charlottesville Bureau Chief