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article / December 5, 2023

VR is the future of law enforcement training

How VR technology provides an effective supplement to officer training to enhance community outcomes

Imagine a future in which law enforcement is able to hone critical thinking and de-escalation skills in safe, controlled environments whenever and wherever they want. Thanks to Axon VR, that future is now.

At Axon Accelerate 2023, Axon hosted a panel on the future of TASER energy weapon training, entitled “Immerse Yourself in the Future of TASER Training.” The panel took a look at the use cases for immersive virtual reality training in law enforcement, and featured JB McRee, Director of Product Marketing at Axon; Andy Wrenn, VP, Head of Training at Axon; Charlie Balon, Manager, VR Subject Matter Expert at Axon; Jim Morgan, Instructor/Coordinator with the Seattle Police Department; Jason Spencer, Sergeant with the Metro Nashville Police Department; and Paul Taylor, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado Denver.

Panelists not only discussed use cases for Axon VR, but shared their experiences with the product and reviewed results from programs that have already adopted VR training. The findings? Departments using VR to augment their training are demonstrating improved results.

Jim Morgan and Jason Spencer spoke about the impact VR has had on their respective departments.

“We're doing the Community Engagement Training modules (CETs),” said Morgan. “We have our pre-academy, we have a post-academy, and we have mandatory training for the rest of the patrol, which is pretty exciting.”

“If I take VR and I push it out to my precincts, which I've done, and I've got facilitators that can run it at the precinct level, then that's small trainings that are happening year-round versus I've only got them a short time during the academy or out at in-service,” said Spencer. “So that kind of became a real opportunity for me to be able to provide more training opportunities.”

The way we train

Today, officers simply aren’t able to access as many hours of training as many want and need. Virtual reality can provide officers with those extra hours of training on virtually any subject matter.

“The way we currently develop officers, what if we took the same method to try and develop a basketball player, right?” asked Taylor. “Let's say we know a basketball player needs to be able to shoot baskets, so we put them on a free throw line, and we have them shoot baskets until they can hit 80%. And then we have them dribble around cones until they can dribble proficiently, and then we put them in a classroom and have them watch PowerPoint slide after PowerPoint slide about all the rules of the game, right? And then maybe we even have an NBA player come in and tell some war stories about when he played on the court. How prepared would that person be to actually go out and make decisions in a basketball environment? The answer is they wouldn't be at all.”

And yet, according to Taylor, that is exactly how officers are trained today. Many only receive a few hours of training on situations they will see in the field. With VR, officers increase their exposure to different in-the-field scenarios and can practice and develop their responses in a safe, controlled environment.

“We have our Simulator Training range where we can do fundamental TASER exercises, all the way up to forced decision-making numerous times,” said Axon’s Charlie Balon.

“I look at virtual technology and immersive technology as an opportunity to really get at some micro-trainings to start to break down some of the silos that we see in training,” said Taylor.

Today, finding space and opportunities to train officers with new technologies can be difficult, particularly in understaffed or cash-strapped departments. With virtual reality, officers can train anywhere, anytime, either on their own or with peers and trainers, giving agencies much more flexibility.

“You can put somebody through a training segment in 15 minutes,” said Spencer.

Community Engagement Training

Departments can also utilize VR training to demonstrate what a career in law enforcement may look like to individuals before they enter the police academy.

“We call it ‘Before the Badge.’ Before they actually go into the academy,” said Morgan. “So it's a good baseline to see. It's amazing just the reaction they have. They'll take the headsets off, and the one I had two weeks ago, two of them were crying. And I'm like, ‘Wow, you alright?’ They're like, ‘That was amazing.’ Absolutely amazing to see that kind of immersion and that kind of emotion from the CETs. I didn't even need to sell it anymore.”

Community Engagement Training (CET) modules can simulate for the user what it is like to go through a trauma or experience a mental health crisis. The idea is to teach empathy and give trainees an idea of what people they encounter might be dealing with. The impact can be profound.

“So, who of you know what it's like to have a paranoid schizophrenic breakdown?” asked Spencer. “But if you sit in this immersive technology, then you're getting bombarded by voices and music and sounds and all this other stuff, and it starts building that empathy, right? Empathy-based training is a huge thing because it starts giving officers the ability to have more tools in their toolbox right out on the street. So they're able to try to have a better understanding with who they're dealing with.”

What’s next

“Ongoing training is vital for both developing and maintaining high-performing officers,” said Axon’s JB McRee.

VR has introduced a paradigm shift in the way officers are trained.

“Just because you can go to firearms qualification and you shoot in the nineties, it doesn't mean you've learned gun fighting,” said Axon’s Andy Wrenn. “It just means you meet the same state standard. So when we think about Axon VR, we think about how we can close the gap between what we're required to give officers and deputies and troopers and what we actually want out of them from a performance perspective.”

“Where we have technologies that are immersive where we can actually engage officers in an environment and really use it as a prompt for decision making, we have the opportunity to start to break down silos,” said Taylor. “We have the opportunity to start to integrate our skill sets and combine them. Everything from de-escalation and verbalization all the way up to and including deadly force. It's important that officers are looking at this from a holistic perspective and they're able to make decisions that incorporate all of those tools and those tasks in a complex environment. And so VR provides the opportunity to do some of that.”

What the Full Axon Accelerate 2023 Session