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case-study / May 24, 2022

How virtual reality is transforming the way Phoenix PD trains

Just one VR training course improved preparedness in 81% of officers

Officer training is critical to improving policing outcomes and relationships between police agencies and their communities. But the truth is, traditional training methods often fall short of the needs of modern police departments.

Phoenix Police Department (AZ) has experience using VR-based technologies to deliver training to their officers. Phoenix PD hypothesized that virtual training methods would provide greater flexibility, affordability and comprehensiveness than the traditional in-person training model. In short, they believed VR training would be more scalable as time went on.

So, what was the outcome of this bold training experiment? Before we get to that, we need to understand how VR augmented Phoenix Police Department’s existing training program.

Why police training needs an update

Like any profession, continuous education plays a key role in every police officer’s career development and performance in the field. Currently, police training methods leave much to be desired:

  • Limited training scope: From mental health issues to domestic violence, the modern police officer has to understand how to effectively deal with a wide variety of situations that require differing de-escalation tactics. And although the vast majority, (90%), of situations officers face in the field don’t call for use of force, the training officers receive is exactly the opposite. A 2018 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics revealed that the average police academy cadet received 154 hours of weapons and defensive tactics training yet only received 18 hours of education on de-escalation techniques. While police officers of course require mastery of the former, most of their job is the latter.

  • Rigid training delivery: Officer training produces an average return on investment of 10 times, yet police departments still find that the real costs of educating their officers outweigh the benefits. Training today often requires officers to travel to remote training facilities. This means that agencies often have to pull officers off the street to fulfill training needs — a financial and logistical challenge that can leave communities vulnerable. Consequently, many police departments choose to forgo additional training beyond annual requirements in order to maintain a consistent presence in their communities.

  • Budgetary restrictions: A recent study revealed that while 80% of police agencies wanted to increase the amount of training provided to staff members, only 34% had the fiscal ability to provide such additional education. For many police departments nationwide, traditional, in-person police training is simply too expensive to scale as the appetite for additional training increases.

Why VR is the training solution

How do we solve for the challenges, outlined above, posed by traditional training? Phoenix PD believed the answer was virtual reality:

  • Inclusivity: Built to meet the needs of modern police officers, VR police training provides a wide range of lessons and teaches broadly applicable skills valuable in almost any situation an officer encounters. These core skills include critical thinking, de-escalation techniques and community-trust building — a procedural justice toolkit that can significantly decrease complaints about police officers. Not only is VR training curriculum tailored towards the educational content police need, but the technology itself has been demonstrated to improve educational outcomes. VR training boasts a knowledge retention rate of 75%, which far exceeds the knowledge retention rates of traditional training methods like reading, group discussion and demonstration.

  • Flexibility: Timing and travel requirements of in-person training place significant stress on police departments. VR training removes both of these roadblocks by delivering comprehensive training in any environment at any time. Officers can work training into their schedule from their home precinct, thus accelerating their learning.

Affordability: Free from travel expenses and other logistical challenges, VR training offers a more streamlined financially-feasible and scalable option for police departments grappling with budgetary limitations.

“As we developed this relationship, it become clear Axon was leading the industry in VR Training. This experience translates to solutions that actually work." –Aimee Smith, Commander, Phoenix PD

The impact of VR-based officer training

Phoenix PD deployed VR training to roughly 85 officers. To assess the impact VR training was having on officers, Phoenix PD administered surveys throughout the training implementation process. Their evaluations determined that the program significantly enhanced their officers' confidence in carrying out their duties:

  • 81% of participants found that at least one VR training scenario had effectively prepared them to adapt their approach to a call.

  • 60% of participants reported that at least one VR training scenario had encouraged them to see things from another perspective.

  • 51% of participants revealed they had applied at least one tactic learned in VR training to their work.

Phoenix PD chose Axon’s VR Training platform as their VR training provider. “As we developed this relationship, it become clear Axon was leading the industry in VR Training,” said Aimee Smith, Commander, Phoenix PD. “Their technology, customer service and passion for police work is excellent. Their experience in the Law Enforcement field has helped with their responsiveness and flexibility in adapting this new technology in our profession. This experience translates to solutions that actually work.”

Phoenix PD had officers go through Axon’s Community Engagement Training program. Developed by law enforcement subject matter experts, this program was built to prepare officers to capably deal with any real-world scenario. The training places officers in immersive, virtual environments where they are asked to de-escalate complex situations to achieve successful outcomes. Phoenix officers were taught to use the established observe-orient-decide-act (OODA) framework to navigate branching, multi-stage narratives that covered calls-for-service involving topics like Alzheimer’s, autism, schizophrenia, suicide, domestic violence, peer intervention and profound agitation and encouraged officers to make high-stakes decisions based on understanding and empathy.

The future of police training

The success of this study has inspired Phoenix PD, said Commander Smith. “We are looking to expand this [training] across other precincts and into our basic training academy, measuring its impact on officers' performance and outcomes. We hope to find the initial study was an indicator of what’s to come.”

Commander Smith sees that standard approaches to training no longer fit the needs of modern policing. To properly prepare officers to cope with the challenges they face every day, departments need to deploy affordable, flexible and comprehensive training solutions like VR training.

Train for the reality of today — and tomorrow

Learn more about the Axon VR Platform and how it can help you agency reduce training costs and improve effectiveness and outcomes. Or reach out to an Axon VR Training expert to explore the future of officer training and a no-cost consultation on your agency’s training needs.