How police in Connecticut are using virtual reality to train officers in de-escalation tactics – Hartford Courant

With everyone watching, New London Police Officer Daquan Stuckey stared at a white tile floor in a mostly empty room. But in front of his eyes, covered by large, black virtual reality goggles, is the scene of a domestic violence call in a couple’s apartment.

“Can you tell me what happened?” Stuckey said, seemingly to no one, into a microphone attached to a headset that fit snugly over his ears. On a screen in front of him, viewers saw nothing but a graphic of a floating head and an outline of a man purporting to be someone involved in a call to violence. at home.

A room above, another police officer clicks hard on a computer mouse, staring at a screen that allows him to choose from prompts such as “draw weapon” and “attack. “

He spoke to Stuckey not as a fellow officer, but as a character, guiding Stuckey through the department’s newest training tool, the Apex Officer virtual reality training simulator.

New London police officers are the first in Connecticut to get their hands on the new Apex Officer trainer, which gives officers full control over a variety of simulated scenarios to help them train in real life. that time for matters that they may deal with in office. The 360-degree simulation fully immerses officers in a scene they might respond to in real life, such as a car accident or a dispute in an apartment or an alley.

The department purchased the system through a grant from the Department of Justice. Because it was the first in the state to use the system, it was discounted from its nearly $100,000 price tag to about $62,500 with additional upgrades like imitation Tasers.

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The sights and sounds, including dialogue and props placed in virtual space from weapons to beer cans — are all controlled by the officers running the simulation as they guide their partners through a call. Just like in real life, officers don’t know what they’re getting into when they put on their goggles and “go dark.”

New London Police Chief Brian Wright (centre, right) guides civilian Brandon Gonzalez-Cottrell (centre, left) through the department's new Apex Officer virtual reality training system during a community outreach event in the department last Nov.  28. (Taylor Hartz/Hartford) Courant)

Although New London Police Department Chief Brian Wright says the benefits of the new Apex program are limitless, its primary purpose is to train officers in de-escalation tactics. in scenarios that feel real, so that they are as prepared as possible when they are.

Wright acknowledged that as emergency responders, police officers often interact with citizens on the worst day of their lives when emotions run high. His goal is to teach his officers to empathize with them and develop a relationship that helps keep everyone safe.

“At the end of the day, everyone is mother, father, sister, brother, niece, nephew,” Wright said. “It is important that we do everything we can to improve our skills to ensure that everyone involved in an incident walks away, continues to see another day and has another chance to change themselves and go out and do well.”

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Sgt. Matt Cassiere said that although the system resembles a video game, they want to emphasize that it is not a game; it is a tool that complements other ongoing training and is often followed by a debriefing session where officers receive feedback and consider what improvements they can make.

“There are a hundred thousand things that can happen in any situation,” Cassiere said. And with this system, they can train for most of them.

No live weapons are allowed in the room while officers are using the simulator, but officers are “armed” with imitation Tasers and handguns that they can “deploy” if the situation calls for it. The aim of the exercises is to connect the subjects in a call and hopefully avoid the deployment of any force.

The system helps officials test nonviolent strategies, test new ways to gain voluntary compliance and improve decision-making.

When an officer puts on the goggles, they are immersed in a new environment where they first need to understand where they are, who they are talking to and if everyone is safe. The training helps them sharpen their observation skills and practice awareness of their surroundings, Wright said.

New London police officer David Diogo guides fellow officers through a departmental training simulation on Nov.  28. (Taylor Hartz/Hartford Courant)

Since they can’t do things like put someone in virtual handcuffs, they have to explain their actions. This helps them learn to keep the lines of communication open with their colleagues, other first responders, dispatchers, bystanders and subjects involved in a scenario. Speaking through their actions also helps officers get oxygen in high-stress, adrenaline-driven situations, and, in turn, helps them make decisions, Wright said.

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“Ultimately we want everyone to be safe. We don’t want officers injured, we don’t want civilians injured, we don’t want third parties injured,” Wright said.

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That Nov. 28, two residents of New London tested the system and were tasked with responding to a virtual scene of a person wandering and, they later found out, with suicidal thoughts.

The pair spoke with the man, practicing de-escalation conversational tactics they had witnessed officers use. But quickly, the character pulls a knife and the civilians deploy their simulated weapons.

I saw the shock on their faces. They didn’t think they would fire a weapon in that situation, but when it got down to it, they did.

Brandon Gonzalez-Cottrell, a commanding officer at the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club of New London County, said the full immersion made him better understand what officers go through.

“It goes from 0 to 60 very quickly,” he said. “I have a newfound respect for our officers, our department, their training and everything they do to protect our community.”

The department recognizes the limitations of the training system – this is not, in fact, true. There were times during the training that Officer Christina Nocito could be heard saying things like “now I’m in a bush” — prompting laughter from onlookers. But it provides a safe environment where officers can try different tactics without weapons or the high stakes of a real-life scenario.

“We made it to the safe room without any danger, except for someone who might have walked on some walls,” Cassiere said.

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