Sponsored by Polco
By Jessie O’Brien for Police1 BrandFocus
Survey data shows that the use of technology and better education are among the top priorities cited by law enforcement. When used properly, technology and training can ease the workload and improve policing. One agency is using virtual reality to address both issues.
The National Law Enforcement Employee Survey (The NES-LE) by Polco is an internal assessment that examines how police and sheriff’s office employees view their jobs. The NES-LE police investigation gives agencies insight into the successes and pain points of their departments, and shows what is most important for law enforcement to do their jobs successfully.
Based on nationwide results, 95% of officers said training, such as de-escalation techniques, crisis and mental health management, was the top concern. And 89% said using technology, such as drones and less-lethal electric weapons, was the second-largest priority.
“Technological advances in law enforcement create new opportunities for local governments to improve community security more efficiently and effectively,” said Michelle Kobayashi, vice president of innovation at Polco. “We see more agencies experimenting with new technology.”
Virtual reality training
The University of Wisconsin-Madison Police Department recently implemented virtual reality training into its program to complement scenario training during downtime. Retired training police officer Stewart Ballweg and Juan Avila, then UWPD night shift lieutenant, led the project. Avila said there is usually a lot of downtime between groups during real-life scenario-based training. Then agents get the chance to use VR.
The system, In spring, hosts a multitude of scenarios. Agencies can choose where to focus their training.
With the VR, “we have the ability to do traffic stops, do active shooter scenarios, do shoot/non-shoot scenarios,” Avila said, “but more of the focus was able to communicate back and forth, [practice] de-escalation, and interacting with the other people on the screen who can talk back to you if you give them a command.”
With the purchase of the VR, UWPD was able to build its own custom scenario that looks like a real place. Avila and his team sent images and videos from the nearby hospital’s psychiatric ward for VR mapping. UWPD chose to replicate this location because of the practical communication challenges associated with responding to someone going through a mental health crisis. As the NES-LE revealed, this is the biggest concern for agencies across the US
The aim of the simulation is for agents to de-escalate a patient who is to be transported to a mental health facility but refuses to go. Unlike other VR systems, the characters interact and react to the officer’s words and actions.
If the officer cannot talk the patient down, the situation escalates and the officer may choose to use a weapon, such as pepper spray, a flashlight, baton, TASER, or pistol. After the simulation, they discuss what happened, how to improve and what went well.
How law enforcement can take advantage of technology
“You can tell the agents are taking the feedback and the training seriously,” Avila said. “They’ve applied it on the street and they’ve had cases similar to what they’ve just done in training. It has worked for us.”
Avila said officers recently had to meet a suicidal patient in the hospital’s psychiatric ward. The VR training correlated directly with the real-life scenario.
Agencies that create a custom scenario may choose to make it public. This allows any other agency with the VR to use the custom maps, which is handy as the maps are pricey. The program costs $50,000 to set up. Not every agency would be willing to pay for this, nor would the extra cost of a new custom card. But for some agencies, it may be worth prioritizing spending on technology.
According to The NES-LE, 63% of law enforcement officers say technology helps them do their jobs effectively. Today, many agencies are understaffed and lack the resources to deal with mounting mental health concerns. While technology cannot replace the value of a human officer who can connect and de-escalate a situation, using technology as a complementary resource, as UWPD has done, could alleviate some of the stress.
“Our research shows that training and technology are two areas that officers value most,” Kobayashi said. “Agency that aligns their priorities with these needs are likely to be more successful.”
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About the author
Jessie O’Brien is a copywriter for Polco.