Virtually Prepared: High-Tech Training System Puts HPD in a Variety of Scenarios | Community

Hillsborough Police Constable Juan Duran is in the upper level of a car park. He was there in response to a call about a man threatening to jump from the top floor. Agent Duran sees the man standing on the thick concrete wall that surrounds the top of the building. He also sees that the man is holding a hammer.

The man sees Officer Duran. “Don’t come any closer,” he shouts. “I’m going to jump! Stay back!”

The policeman stops short, raises his hands and shouts at the man: “It’s okay, I’m not here to arrest you. I am here to help you. You see, I have nothing in my hands. I just want to talk. Can we talk?” Officer Duran’s voice is clear, but not demanding.

“Talking is fine, but it won’t help,” the man replies, looking over the edge of the parking lot.

“What’s going on?” Agent Duran asks. “What is your name?” The man gives his name, then tells Agent Duran that he has no reason to live. He said he lost his job and his wife left him and took their children with her.

Agent Duran continues to speak with the man, now calling him by name. He asks the man what he’s looking forward to and tells him no one wants him to jump because someone called 9-1-1. He explains to the man how he can get help and that he would like to help. Officer Duran reiterates that he hasn’t drawn his gun and his taser is put away.

“Do you love your children? Agent Duran asked the man.

“More than anything else,” he replied.

“That’s 100% why we don’t want you jumping off the building,” Officer Duran said.

Eventually, the man drops the hammer and walks away from the edge of the building. He agrees to be handcuffed and taken to the hospital for evaluation.

Officer Duran approaches the man, who has his back turned to him, arms behind him, and handcuffs him. Suddenly, everything around turns into a grid of bright blue squares, like giant graph paper. The parking lot disappears. The man in the handcuffs left in a flash.

Officer Duran is standing on a blue padded floor in a large room. There is a table with several monitors and laptops, and Sgt. William ‘Buddy’ Parker sits at the table with headphones and a microphone. Officer Duran wears a helmet that covers his ears and eyes, and is equipped with a microphone. He has other technologies strapped to his wrists.

Last October, the Hillsborough Police Department received training equipment that uses virtual reality technology to place users in a wide variety of scenarios that provide enhanced interaction. The equipment has been in use at HPD since January and has been well received by officers.

“This is a virtual training simulator that allows us to do de-escalation as well as use of force or resistance response training,” said Sgt. Parker, who handles the formation of the HPD. “The scenarios we experienced with the officers, we had very positive feedback. Obviously this is new technology for many of them, so they are still testing and getting comfortable with it. They get a little nervous when doing things in virtual reality.

Another benefit of VR technology is that it allows force members to gain experience and practice in scenarios that would otherwise be difficult to set up or shut down for live training. For example, Hillsborough has a parking deck which is used frequently. Logistically, it would be next to impossible to shut down this facility for a full day of training. HPD agents can be plugged into situations – like the one that Agent Duran was involved in – to practice negotiation and communication skills. In his particular scenario, Officer Duran was able to achieve the desired result.

“What we want our officers to do is talk to that person without having to use force and get them to help without anything else,” said Sgt. Parker, who also participated in the script, giving the floor to the man threatening to jump. From his seat at the controls, Sgt. Parker can click other options to create hundreds of different options, leading to hundreds of different results.

“There are agencies across the country that use this type of training simulator, but there are also other formats where you’re in a room where images and scenarios are projected onto screens,” said Sgt. said Parker. “This (VR) is more immersive and you feel like you’re in the situation.”

This is one of the reasons why the floor is padded. It is not uncommon for an officer undergoing training to try to lean against a virtual car. Aside from the realistic visuals, one of the most important features of the VR training system is the way the role-playing game emphasizes the importance of communication skills. Most scenarios, at some point, involve a conversation.

“That’s an important point when you think about who we recruit into the profession,” HPD Chief Duane Hampton said. “We need to find people who can communicate well. It is extremely important. That’s why we do a lot of interviews with them. We try to assess their ability to communicate with others because it is the most important skill and the one our people use every day, day in and day out. It’s more important than their driving, more important than their firearms. More important than anything is this ability to communicate.

But even with the high-tech VR training systems used at HPD and other law enforcement agencies nationwide, it’s still debatable whether the scenarios are close enough to what may happen. produce in reality. For example, the police department’s response to the recent mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, is under investigation for what appears to be a breakdown as to whether members of this force have been trained for active shooter situations.

Is it even possible that an immersive training method, such as virtual reality, prepares officers to react correctly and quickly to situations that could put their own lives at risk? Chief Hampton said one of the main goals of training with VR technology is what he calls “stress inoculation,” where the trainee is repeatedly exposed to high-stress scenarios to create a greater chance of an automatic response if and when the officer is involved. in real situation.

“It can be very immersive, but the idea behind it is always that it generates the need to make decisions and react so that when you encounter that situation in the real world, you’re not starting from zero,” said Chief Hampton. “You start with a knowledge base and a response model, a behavior model. And then also, it gives you the opportunity to learn. You walk into it, you meet it, you don’t respond the way we need to respond, you have the opportunity to do it again.

Chief Hampton is quick to point out that VR training is just one of the training methods used by the HPD. Classroom training is given to explore the concepts and principles. There is role-playing training that employs live actors. “Sim-unions” training is conducted using paint guns that closely resemble what they use on the job.

One area of ​​concern that gets a lot of attention from all sides of the political spectrum, and one that often falls to law enforcement, is how to prepare agencies to respond to calls that implicate, or potentially implicate, a person with mental health issues. Chief Hampton sees the new VR system as a valuable training tool.

“That’s one of the great things about this system is that it’s very customizable. It has predefined scenarios, but you can also have the operator interact as a suspect, in terms of communication, so they can play a role, giving the agent clues about mental illness. Again, this works in concert with everything we do. No training we do is just one thing. We do mental health training, we’ve done all kinds of different training for officers, and the virtual reality situation is a place where they can put those skills into practice,” Chief Hampton said.

As for an active shooter situation, Hampton said the rule of thumb is to get as many law enforcement officers to the scene as quickly as possible. The first on the scene should take stock. If there is a shooter who is actively dealing with injuring people, that one law enforcement responder is expected to move on to threatening. Ideally, there will be more responders on site. Chief Hampton said active shooter calls spread police, sheriff and highway patrol, and there was even training in place for how to work in law enforcement.

“North Carolina has a great rapid deployment program, which is training that we do to deal with these kinds of situations,” he said. “It’s general, so we should all have had some level of that training.”

The new VR technology is also seen as a recruiting tool, as potential employees often prefer to work for departments that exemplify the importance of training.

“Actually, we were very lucky. Our attrition rate is very slow,” said Lt. Andy Simmons, administrative services manager. “As you lose an officer, you replace an officer. We’re a lot luckier than some of our sister and sister agencies around us. But that’s just another recruiting tool. For us to be able to using this type of training is what people are looking for and looking to the future using technology and then taking it from there.”

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