Elizabethton Police Department integrates virtual reality training

Published 2:43 pm Thursday, May 25, 2023

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BY IVAN SANDERS
CITY OF ELIZABETHTON PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER
In an effort to protect their lives and the lives of the citizens they have been entrusted with, the Elizabethton Police Department has made an investment into virtual reality training equipment which will prepare their officers for scenarios they might engage in while performing their daily duties in a controlled environment away from real bullets and life-threatening calls.
The training will be important for the officers especially at a time when police officers are often viewed more as the criminal than the protector and peace maker in today’s society.
In a department that is constantly looking for new candidates to fill openings within the ranks, this type of training will allow young officers the opportunity to develop a skill set that will play a large role when they take to the streets.
“You have the ability to put them in situations where they can make decisions and learn from mistakes outside of the sheer liability initially and it kind of helps build that decision-making file that they can fall back on when faced with the actual events unfolding in front of them,” said Steve Larsen, a trainer with Axom who rolled out the training to the department this week. “It really helps with inoculating against stress which is a big factor in decision making as well. It covers all those aspects to improve an officers ability to make good, sound decisions.”
An example of how the virtual reality training can help in a scenario of an officer responding to a call of a mentally disturbed person, possibly a schizophrenic, in the community engagement side of the program, an officer can actually be transformed in the program to the subject to see what that person sees when the engagement takes place.
This is an important factor because often the officers have to make quick decisions especially when it comes to a person in possession of a weapon such as a knife or gun.
“On the community engagement side, the officers can actually jump in the point of view of the subjects so for an example in the case of the schizophrenic, the scenario you are dealing with them, the officer actually changes the point of view within the scenario to where they are experiencing the faces and the effect of communication so it teaches these officers these are the hurdles that they have to overcome to build in helping this person overcome the crisis that they are in so that is a huge factor of this training.,” said Larsen.
Training and Accreditation Corporal Wayne Pritchard of the Elizabethton Police Department agreed with Larsen that communication in general was a huge part of any officer’s engagement with the public.
“Communications is a big majority of our job especially dealing with people with mental health issues and the public in general,” said Pritchard. “You have to learn there are certain words and phrases you shouldn’t say with mental health issues that has a detrimental outcome on the situation. Virtual reality puts you in their position and you get their view point when dealing with those situations. It gives the most realistic training in a controlled environment to where you don’t have to worry about the officers being harmed and still be able to make those quick life and death decisions.”
Pritchard offered that the training will be invaluable for the department since there are so many new officers coming to work at the department.
“It is important especially before they (new hires) get on the streets and deal with people,” Pritchard said. “The older officers understand that since they have been out on the streets and have been dealing with people but the new ones haven’t experienced that as of yet.”
According to Larsen, there are over 300 departments across the nation that have incorporated virtual reality training into their departments noting that training is always important especially having the ability to have something that is easy to start up and run officers through and still have good viable training going on which is priceless.
“When I was an instructor prior to retiring, we were always thinking of ways to integrate more training¬† and this fills that niche on a lot of levels,” Larsen said. “It is only going to improve with better content and better stuff coming out as it keeps getting better.”
Larsen added that some departments have incorporated letting citizens come in and use the virtual reality headsets to experience what the police officers face when they encounter different scenarios.
“It has helped make a difference for the public to experience what these officers truly face.”

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