UOPD buys $62,000 VR training system | News

The University of Oregon Police Department purchased a $62,000 virtual reality system for de-escalation training to improve the quality of officer training and its service to the community.

While virtual reality isn’t new to police training, older systems tend to focus only on use of force and “shoot, don’t shoot” situations. UOPD Police Chief Matthew Carmichael said the new system is a big improvement because it focuses more on de-escalation and is designed for “today’s police.”

“We want to implement positive, interactive feedback,” Carmichael said. “If I go into a system and all I’m doing is training officers on the use of force with that system, what do you think they’re going to focus on?”

Carmichael said that Apex Officer Pro Training Simulator, which the UOPD purchased in early March, allows multiple officers to train together. He intends to pair armed officers with unarmed community service officers, or CSOs, to better mimic what is happening on the ground.

“This system will give me the opportunity to immerse CSO officers in a training environment without having to shut down a building and put up training signs and have, you know, actors and actresses in there and simulate kind of an event,” Carmichael said.

The entire system includes VR goggles, headphones, and a vest that provides simulation-based interactive haptic feedback so officers can feel any attack caused by the scenario. Carmichael said commentary is a valuable feature for creating realistic and educational storylines.

“Let’s say we have a situation where there’s some type of violence, you’ll know if you’ve managed to resolve it then because you’ll get feedback through the vest system,” he said.

According to the senior officer website, the simulator features a “dynamic scenario generator” that uses artificial intelligence to create multi-incident scenarios that adapt to the agent’s reaction. In addition to use of force, the system can simulate a wide variety of scenarios, including mental health crises, traffic stops, and even calls when nothing at all is happening.

Normally, the simulator costs around $90,000, but Carmichael said the department purchased it for $62,000 and called it an “exceptional investment” for the UOPD that he hopes will save money on the road. He said this system does not require additional funding because the ministry is able to reallocate existing funds.

For fiscal year 2021, the UOPD’s total expenditure budget is $7,440,946, according to budget data provided by the ministry. In FY20, it was $7,600,087; in FY19, $7,313,272; in FY18, $7,074,505.

“We’ll know in about 12 months after we start rocking and rolling with the system working,” Carmichael said. “Not only will we see what that cost will save us, and maybe the training that it replaces, but the novelty will be – look at all that training that we’re going to be able to do on the shift that we didn’t have the opportunity to do before because we didn’t have the system.

To ensure the training is as effective as possible, Carmichael said the UOPD’s acting director of outreach and engagement, John Johnson, will review the system through an equity lens to provide comments.

The UOPD tapped Johnson, who spent 13 years in law enforcement at UC Davis and holds a master’s degree in organizational behavior and family therapy, to consult and improve the culture, diversity, equity and inclusion of the department.

He uses his previous policing experiences to provide a fresh perspective for UOPD training, while studying the needs and perspectives of community members who come from different backgrounds to improve the service.

“I’m looking to find out what can be done to meet the needs of this community,” Johnson said. “Given my previous experiences, I had to learn the needs of a community all around the university, and everyone is going to be different.”

Since the UO brings in students from around the world with different backgrounds and cultures, Johnson said it’s important to prepare for their needs and tailor the training to take those factors into account.

“How do we envision all the different cities of all the different people coming in and now being part of your community for one, two, three or four years and beyond?” says Johnson. “We have to prepare for the unknown.”

Johnson said he will bring this approach to the new simulator to collaborate and provide feedback on how officers should train and what new situations they might encounter. He wants officers to train outside of their comfort zone, likening it to practicing for a sporting event.

“The conditioning dynamic should be much more intense than the actual competition,” Johnson said. “It means that when it comes time to see the situation, you’re not overwhelmed with what could possibly happen because you’ve been training at a much higher level of intensity, with much greater focus.”

Carmichael has high hopes for the new simulator and believes the UOPD’s approach to training, coupled with Johnson’s guidance, will make the training system more efficient than it otherwise would be.

“Our focus on communication is going to be something that’s going to help build an educational training platform, but it’s positive,” Carmichael said. “If we use this system only to focus on potential ongoing negative contacts, it would be a bad choice on our part.”

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