Pulaski Sheriff’s New Virtual Reality Training System, First of Its Kind in the State, Is Awesome
Law enforcement can never train too much, and if training turns out to be fun, even better.
The Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office recently dropped $150,000 on the state-of-the-art video game system you’ve even seen, and is using it to help officers improve their judgment when faced with tough calls on whether to use force or try to defuse instead. Law enforcement agencies in 44 other states use the same system to send trainees through roughly a million different virtual reality scenarios, from rural domestic violence calls to school shootings to drunken and disorderly behavior in a gentlemen’s club.
The Apex Officer virtual reality police training simulator aims to help law enforcement make better decisions in high pressure situations, so if you want to rent it for your son’s birthday party, you’re missing out. the point, although that would be impressive. The system’s nearly limitless mix-and-match training scenarios – different locations, call types, perpetrators and victims – are used to help MPs prepare for making difficult calls in confusing and potentially dangerous environments. “And we can also work with different variables that we’re dealing with, from someone who might have dementia, or mental illness, or a variety of things that we can use in this system to put the assistant who’s going through the training in this situation,” Pulaski County Sheriff Eric Higgins said.
The department has two simulators, one for deputies and another for detention center guards. It takes two: a trainee equipped with a headset, a VR backpack and a weapon (pistol, pepper spray, baton or rifle), plus a situation DJ who runs the computer program via a laptop , mixing crimes, buildings and other variables as the formation unfolds.
Lieutenant Chris Ameling is one of the few Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office employees trained to operate the Apex VR system. He deftly flips through the screens that allow him to modify it so that each practice run is different. Drop-down menus allow him to customize who the trainee will deal with, adding mental illness, drugs, weapons, and other wildcards to the mix. Ameling then serves as a dispatcher, his voice being transmitted to the apprentice’s headset as the scenario unfolds.
While we know law enforcement training is serious business and crime isn’t meant to be fun, anyone who’s ever taken the controls of Grand Theft Auto knows that stepping into an alternate universe where you could shooting people is a good time. It was certainly for the media types who lined up for their headphone turn on Tuesday. A blogger got a lesson in quick decision-making when he shot an innocent person who was just looking for his cellphone. A TV cameraman suffered three stab wounds during a domestic violence call before shooting the abusive husband to death. Catch-all NPR correspondents aren’t usually known for their bloodthirstiness, but Daniel Breen, host of KUAR Morning Edition admitted that he did his simulation so well that he was considering a law enforcement career swap.
Members of the department’s Citizens’ Advisory Committee, which includes the presidents of all crime watch groups in the county’s neighborhood, were able to try out the new simulator. The youth of the department’s Jr. Deputy summer camp will have their turn later this week.
So far, approximately 200 law enforcement officers from the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department and the Pulaski County Detention Center have taken turns on the new VR training system. The department requires 48 hours of annual training, compared to 16 hours under the former sheriff, Higgins said. VR training is not a substitute for actual safe driving lessons, hours at the range, or SWAT drills. But it will help train more officers faster, and Higgins said ultimately he thinks it will save money because the department won’t need to rent seats or cover transportation costs for off-site training. “It’s an additional tool that we can take and use in the space we have and get more people through.” Other law enforcement agencies can also use the equipment, he said.