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Virginia police use Oculus VR headsets for de-escalation training

Oculus Axon VrSource: Axon

What you need to know

  • The police department in Strasburg, VA is using VR to train its officers.
  • The program and headsets are provided by Axon, which uses Oculus VR headsets.
  • The training is focused on de-escalation efforts involving individuals with mental disorders.

Tensions remain high in the United States regarding police brutality and misconduct, particularly in the midst of the election. One company, Axon, is focused on aiding efforts to better train police to deal with real-world scenarios, and de-escalate situations before they get out of hand. To do this, Axon is using VR training to put them in the middle of these situations, and one police department in Strasburg, VA is taking advantage.

The training program was paid for as part of an $80,000 Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant, and provides Oculus VR headsets, which are among the best VR headsets available. The program includes three crisis situations where the officer has to decide how to proceed in a given scenario. A big part of this includes empathy training, which focuses on interacting with individuals with behavioral disorders like autism. Many police situations involve dealing with mental crisis, and being able to navigate and de-escalate them can be difficult, if those involved are not mentally present or aware.

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Lt. Lonnie Conner, training coordinator for the department, compares it to a video game. The VR training puts trainees in perspective of an officer, as well as that of a civilian being confronted by police. Being approached by police with weapons drawn can be a frightening place to navigate as a civilian, and the training is designed to put officers in that situation.

It puts you in the officer's shoes and then that person's shoes. Different perspectives. This is geared toward de-escalation, so it's not about shoot/don't shoot, or anything like that, it's about being able to recognize and then being able to talk. Crisis intervention.

Axon notes that up to 10% of police encounters, and much as half of fatal police shootings, involve individuals with mental disorders. The use of VR is aimed at putting officers in scenarios that are difficult to replicate in the real-world. The various modules available include autism, schizophrenia, and suicidal ideation, with more coming soon such as hard of hearing, post-traumatic stress injury, and Alzheimer's/dementia.

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