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VR police training: 4 benefits and use cases for leveraging VR training tools

A black-and-white photo featuring a line of law enforcement officers in riot gear.

Virtual reality training scenarios are an effective way to prepare law enforcement officers for real-life confrontations

In order for law enforcement professionals to best protect and serve their communities, they need continuous training. Evolving social and cultural norms, advancements in technology and ever-changing state and federal guidelines all require officers to be up-to-date and ready to respond to almost any situation. However, traditional training methods can be time-consuming and costly, eating up budgets and taking officers off the streets when they’re needed most. On top of that, it’s almost impossible to recreate the kind of intense situations law enforcement regularly faces in a training environment.

To that end, more and more agencies are turning to VR police training to fill those gaps. Virtual reality technology provides immersive training content that more thoroughly prepares police officers for the realities of the job. Police VR training has numerous benefits for both officers and the communities they serve, making it a worthwhile investment for any forward-thinking law enforcement agency.

Learn more about police officer training with Axon's Law enforcement training: The complete guide.

The state of VR police training

If the words “virtual reality” bring to mind bulky headsets, action-heavy video games and old sci-fi movies, it’s time to take another look. Modern VR headsets are lightweight and intuitive, using high-definition visuals to fully immerse participants in simulated scenarios. Meanwhile, VR police training scenarios are typically created in consultation with law enforcement experts and use innovative teaching methods to increase recall and speed up skill development. According to a PWC study, VR learners showed a 4x faster training rate and a 275% boost in confidence when applying the skills they learned when compared to their classroom-trained counterparts.

Police VR training is effective at all levels of law enforcement experience, from rookies to longtime veterans of the force. In fact, some high school training programs, like those at Laconia Huot Tech Center in New Hampshire, have begun incorporating VR training scenarios into their curriculums. According to instructor (and former Captain) William Clary, students who have completed his course have gone on to be in high demand among local law enforcement agencies, making the case that VR police training better prepares aspiring officers for the realities of the job.

Key benefits of police VR training

Saves time and money

Budget and scheduling are the two biggest challenges law enforcement agencies face when trying to provide their teams with the training they need. According to Sgt. Jason Spencer of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department, “Time is a struggle. We have eight precincts, three details per precinct. We’re slated for just over 1,600 people. We’re running three recruit classes at a time. On top of that, we’re responsible for end-service and continuing education. For all that, I’ve just got myself and five guys.”

Spencer’s situation is far from unusual, which is what makes VR police training such an efficient option. The ease with which officers can get equipped with headsets and begin training reduces downtime, and some modules can be completed in under 15 minutes. “It gives officers the ability to do continuous training throughout the year, not just getting brought back for a day or two,” Spencer said.

These easily repeatable VR scenarios also cut down on equipment costs. For example, practical training for TASER energy weapons requires the firing of live cartridges, which are costly to replace. Meanwhile, VR police training allows officers to “deploy 100 cartridges and it doesn’t cost you anything. If you’re doing that with real cartridges, you’re talking about a lot of money.”

Improves crisis management skills

There’s no telling what situations officers will find themselves in during a “typical” day — or when these situations could escalate. Crisis management is a core skill that every law enforcement professional must learn, but it’s difficult to accurately represent the tension and urgency of these scenarios in traditional training methods.

VR police training, on the other hand, gives officers multiple perspectives to consider: their own and those of the people in crisis. “To see anything from another person’s perspective, it helps you realize what someone could go through,” said Montgomery County SWAT Negotiator Vic Machese. In fact, after completing Axon’s VR police training modules, 99% of Machese’s squad said they felt more confident in their ability to handle mental health crises.

Fosters empathy for diverse viewpoints

Crisis preparation isn’t the only way police VR training exposes officers to different perspectives. Axon VR Community Engagement Training offers a wide range of virtual scenarios designed to help officers better understand community members who might be experiencing a mental health episode. This raises awareness and empathy, which can be used to de-escalate tense situations and resolve them amicably.

Why is this necessary? According to one study that tracked TASER energy weapon use from 2015 to 2020, these devices have been disproportionately used against disabled people, ethnic minority groups and neurodiverse community members. By placing officers in virtual training scenarios and exposing them to diverse viewpoints, VR police training can help unravel unconscious biases. As Sgt. Spencer of the Nashville PD put it, “The Community Engagement component trains officers on practical, real-life situations when it comes to dealing with people in our community who need the most help. It puts you in their shoes and builds perspective.”

Creates more realistic scenarios

One of the most-cited benefits of police VR training is the heightened realism of training scenarios. At Laconia Huot Tech Center, Captain Clary found virtual reality much more effective than having students act out different roles or simply watch videos. “We can put the headsets on them and they're talking to people that aren't animated, that are real people," he said. Machese had similar feedback: “It’s as real as real can be without you actually being in the situation.”

Axon makes VR police training a reality

While traditional police training is time-consuming, expensive and difficult to schedule, VR police training is a forward-thinking solution that offers numerous benefits. The industry-leading Axon VR Training platform prepares officers for the realities of the present and future, with nearly 300 hours spent researching, reviewing, and developing each training scenario. If you’re interested in joining the more than 1,500 law enforcement agencies using Axon VR Training, get in touch.