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article / July 27, 2023

Raising the bar: how VR training can make TASER CED training more effective


Training is an essential part of police officers’ schedules because it lets them build and maintain critical muscle memory. However, officers in the United Kingdom spend an average of just five days per year on training of all kinds, from first aid to TASER conducted energy device (CED) training. The latter has become increasingly important since the Home Office allocated £10 million in 2019 to increase the number of CED-equipped officers across the United Kingdom.

Virtual reality (VR) training provides an opportunity to improve conditions by accelerating training, cutting material costs, and improving the realism of scenarios. To find out exactly how VR training could impact UK police, Axon commissioned an independent research report from Crest Advisory.


Through literature reviews, qualitative fieldwork at two different forces, focus groups, surveys, and interviews, Crest’s study found various ways that VR might improve the efficiency and effectiveness of TASER CED training. Crucially, VR training saves time on training by cutting down on planning, set-up, and other steps in the process. Forces could also save money on single-use materials, with officers firing as many virtual cartridges as they needed without additional cost.

Participants found VR training provided access to a wider range of more realistic scenarios, each of which could be repeated more easily than role-played scenarios. Officers could then watch back footage of training to learn from their mistakes, making training more effective.

Results showed additional benefits to VR training, such as helping officers identify and address unconscious bias in TASER CED use and the potential for a 'multiplayer mode' that could enable team training and thus better replicate on-the-ground operations.

The study also uncovered potential drawbacks and weaknesses to VR training. For example, although VR scenarios are more realistic than role-playing, they may not accurately represent facial expressions or body language. Some officers experience motion sickness when using headsets, and others may simply find it hard to adapt to new technology. More graphic scenarios could risk triggering an officer’s PTSD. At the same time, some worry that using VR might make training feel like a game. If deployed haphazardly, it could lead officers to deploy TASER CEDs more than necessary.

Officers and trainers stressed that, moving forward, VR should supplement current training rather than replace it. Traditional live cartridge shoots and post-deployment wire management, in particular, should remain a part of live training. VR, meanwhile, is well suited to scenario-based training. When implementing that training, forces should consider VR’s standards of realism, ensure access to the technology, examine the best ways to utilise live experience in instruction and determine how best to use it in addressing unconscious bias.

Research methodology and goals

Above all, the study aimed to examine the potential for VR TASER CED training. Crest Advisory researchers set out to determine how TASER CED training works now, where VR fits in and how expanding VR could improve and scale training at large and TASER CED training in particular.

To get these answers, they adopted several different approaches. The first was a review of the available literature regarding current TASER CED training, the feasibility of integrating VR into police training, existing VR uses in the public sector in the UK and open-source data associated with TASER CED use. They scoured Home Office and police force data, academic journals, investigative reports and studies to produce a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis of VR training.

With SWOT analysis in hand, researchers partnered with two forces – the British Transport Police and Dorset Police – to conduct qualitative fieldwork with training leads and frontline officers. At the same time, they sought input from officers and training leads at several levels. Starting at the individual level, they interviewed four TASER CED training leads, two learning and development leads, and five officers who had recently completed a refresher course.

Moving to a larger sample size, Crest held a remote workshop event for TASER CED training leads across the country to present their initial findings and receive feedback. Finally, they held focus groups with officers who had just completed their initial TASER CED training and surveyed 26 people who had recently completed a refresher course.

The current state of TASER CED training

Under current guidelines, the College of Policing sets the curriculum for training. It blends knowledge and theory-based learning, technical demonstration, and practical exercises in that curriculum. Law enforcement forces have some discretion around how they deliver the training, but it typically results in the average officer spending around five days per year in training, covering a number of areas from legislation review to public order.

Officers who wish to carry TASER CEDs must opt into certification training, which takes 18 hours to complete and requires six hours of refresher training per year. Instruction is split between in-person and online. Most who opt in say they were primarily motivated by a desire to feel safer on the job, though wanting to serve teammates better and learn new skills were also among the top reasons.

Benefits of traditional training

Traditional training practices are the way they are for a reason: By and large, they work. Officers surveyed for this study reported they valued hands-on time with the CEDs as it let them develop muscle memory that would aid in rapid and accurate deployment. They also responded well to receiving instruction from officers who had used TASER CEDs in the real world and drew from a well of experience in their teachings. These experienced instructors used creative methods to make scenario training feel believable, such as having trainees run before training to increase their heart rates and mimic the physical experience of a dangerous call for service. On the whole, officers feel positively about the current state of training and about TASER CEDs.

‘Every single time that I've had knives pulled on me, I've wanted a TASER [CED]. And I'm putting myself on the line,' said one officer who had recently taken the initial course. 'I think it's an absolutely brilliant piece of kit. Even just the impact of someone seeing it is brilliant. It does give you more confidence.'

Challenges of traditional training

Cost presents an immediate roadblock. Exact totals can vary as they’re affected by the costs of equipment such as cartridges, external venues used for training, travel, paid days away from duty, and trainer salaries. As ballpark figures, the West Midlands Police estimate it costs £321 per officer to train for the TASER X2 and £700 per officer for the TASER 7. When combined with the steep time commitment required for certification, these costs result in fewer officers achieving TASER CED certification. That means fewer can employ a potentially life-saving piece of technology on the street.

Traditional training has other shortcomings. Training environments are often wide open spaces – a stark contrast to the confined spaces in which officers often handle real-life incidents. Instructors typically wear protective gear during training, which undercuts the realism of the scenarios. As one officer put it, ‘It's not the same when you've got someone wearing a big fluffy suit, crash helmet, and gloves. It’s not realistic.'

Trainees and instructors are often familiar with one another, which can affect the decision-making process of the trainee, as can the limited number of scenarios instructors have at their disposal. Trainees often get advance notice of which scenarios they’ll face from other trainees in the program, and having time to prepare beforehand means less accurate results from testing their on-the-fly judgments.

‘It’s a skill that needs to be practised regularly,’ said one officer. ‘And it does feel like [we’ve got] the bare minimum [amount of training] at the minute.’

How VR can improve police training

Scheduling efficiency and time savings

The Crest study found several opportunities for VR training to improve upon the time-tested models. In traditional training, pulling more than one or two officers at a time is very difficult to schedule. Training modules simply take too long and would take too many officers off the street. Not so with VR training. The study indicated that with VR, there's no need to spend time planning scenarios, finding officers to act in them, running those actors through their parts, or finding backups in case those officers run into a scheduling snag.

Instead, all that's needed are a single qualified trainer, any number of trainees, and VR equipment for each. The scenarios are pre-built and ready to run, and figures in the scenario are controlled by the software. That makes running the scenarios more time-efficient, which keeps officers on the street as much as possible, allows more training to be packed into the same amount of time, and lets instructors spend more time on giving higher-quality feedback.

Identifying biases and building empathy

Efficacy and cost-effectiveness are just pieces of the training puzzle. There’s also high importance to be placed on the value of the curriculum itself. After reviewing TASER CED use cases from 2015-2020, the Independent Office for Police Conduct determined TASER CEDs had been used disproportionately against ethnic minority groups, neurodiverse people, and disabled people. This presents one of VR training's most promising opportunities: building empathy for diverse perspectives.

One study researchers examined in their review of the current literature highlighted the potential of VR to 'explore the roles of empathy and perspective taking in training police with VR. A training simulation could be created such that police trainees must embody the role of the target or a bystander, prompting them to interact with a situation from a different purview.' Indeed, this is one way many law enforcement agencies use VR training today.

'It's incredibly challenging to create these [traditional training] scenarios and ensure that you can cover off the right amount of equality and diversity needs that we have,' said one TASER CED training lead. 'Whereas I think with something like [VR], you could create the avatar, the character, as a starting point, and [trainees] can actually experience it through action, rather than just through the theory of it.'

Not only does VR allow for changing officer perspectives, but it also helps expand the diversity of figures in scenario training.

'The diversity in our force is low, so we're restricted by our instructors playing the subjects or other officers,' said another training lead. 'So if we could include VR and include other races and disabilities and everything that we can't do with our own staff, then I think that would be really helpful.'

Team cohesion

VR’s potential to build bridges can also apply to police team-building. Current TASER CED training sees only one or two officers from a team in each training course, which makes it impossible to build cohesion among all members of a team at once. With VR, however, officers in Crest’s focus group highlighted the potential of a connected 'multiplayer' training module. This could foster intra-team connection by having entire squads traverse scenarios simultaneously. This would also improve realism in scenario training.

'That time would be better used if as a squad you could go and do something together. Like a first aid refresher,' one officer said. 'Because it's the people you're working with all the time. You know how your squad works, you know people's strengths and weaknesses.'

Officers and instructors alike stress that VR could likely never fully replace hands-on training. However, its potential as a supplement is clear.

As one officer said, 'I think I'd be confident if VR was used to complement the regular side of TASER [CED] training because ultimately, as good as I'm sure it is, you still need to handle a weapon, load a weapon and fire a weapon to learn to use it. I wouldn't be confident solely using VR, but I think it definitely has a place to complement TASER [CED] training in a big way.'

Axon VR Training

Overall, the study found that virtual reality has enormous potential to accelerate TASER CED training as it boosts efficacy and cuts costs. This makes it an attractive option for law enforcement forces looking to expand training bottlenecks without stretching already too-thin budgets. It also appeals to officers, who work more effectively and exhibit greater understanding of their communities after training.

Axon's cutting-edge VR Training technology combines realistic and increasingly complex scenarios to power maximally effective training. Whether officers need TASER CED deployment reps or empathy-building community engagement training, Axon VR can help them fit it into their busy schedules with brief and engaging modules. Officers and their instructors can then break down the action using detailed reporting and analytics. Click here to learn more about why more than 1,400 law enforcement agencies incorporate Axon VR Training.