HCSO starts using VR training system | Local News
The Hopkins County Sheriff’s Department took a big leap into the 21st century on Thursday when it began using its new WRAP Reality virtual reality simulator. The program not only allows assistants to experience training scenarios in a simulated environment, but also gives training officers the opportunity to review and critique officers’ responses during the situation.
“It’s a 360-degree environment, totally immersed,” said Jeff Welch, training manager. “It gives you the ability to communicate, move around, and use our everyday gear and weapons.”
Virtual reality training for police officers has been around since the mid-1980s, but what came before isn’t even comparable. Previously, agents stood in a fixed position in front of a flat project screen. The operator had the ability to alter the video projected on the screen based on what the officer was saying or doing in the situation, but these were usually limited to only two or three choices. Officers were also limited to only the viewpoint projected onto the screen, meaning they lacked the ability to simulate a real three-dimensional world.
With WRAP, the officer in training gear stands inside a 30’X30′ virtual world with the freedom to walk, jump and move. He or she must interact with characters and objects in this virtual world, while maintaining the same situational awareness that they would need in their day-to-day work.
“It would get you as close to a real-life situation as possible,” Welch said. “You have a full 360 degree environment once you put the headset on, so officers are really connected.”
In a scenario presented to Deputy Charlie Young, he was placed in the hallway of a crowded school that had been overrun by two active shooters. The simulated students and the simulated gunmen could come from anywhere in the simulated environment.
“So far, the focus has been mainly on training in decision-making on the use of force – to shoot or not to shoot,” said WRAP’s Robert Bemis. “What we wanted to do was provide a system that allows you to use all of your other learned skills as well.”
The scenarios included in the system not only include a number of active shooter simulations, but a host of other everyday situations that agents find themselves in. Some involve a “use of force” while others give officers a chance to use their other training. . One scenario places an officer in a restaurant with a subject suffering from dementia, while others require the bureau to investigate a scene and collect evidence.
Another places him on the scene of a roadside check. In this scenario, the suspect eventually returns to his vehicle, out of sight.
“In the situation where the subject reached his vehicle, I had the option of getting him back with a gun, a wallet, or a phone,” Bemis said. “If my officer is not applying effective judgment and may be prone to responding incorrectly, I want to know about it in this training environment and be able to address it.”
Bemis said the most important aspect of the WRAP system was not the actual training, but the performance evaluation.
“It’s not the formation itself, but what happens during the performance evaluation phase where the officer and the formation have the opportunity to discuss the action that was taken in the simulation,” he explained.
“It’s all recorded, so you can sit back and debrief when it’s done,” Welch said.
In a simulation that ends with the use of lethal force, the trainer and apprentice can replay the entire scenario from start to finish. The trainee, still in virtual reality gear, can observe his own actions from a third-person perspective. Not only does this allow more time to judge whether the shots were necessary and justified, but it also freezes the 3D virtual world to show the accuracy and trajectory of the shot.
The Hopkins County Sheriff’s Office is the first law enforcement agency in Kentucky to begin using the WRAP simulator, which is currently in use in 15 departments across the country, including the Las Vegas PD.
The system cost the department about $25,000 with an annual subscription. The simulator comes with 40 unique scenarios, each with multiple variations, and Bemis said WRAP is constantly adding new scenarios based on real-world events.