Erie Police Academy utilizes VR

Alex Trabold, Staff writer

Recently, the Erie Police Academy integrated a new method of teaching students using virtual reality (VR) headsets. The headsets are designed to help students simulate scenarios that members of the force must be able to deal with.

These scenarios include dissuading someone from commit-ting suicide, stopping a homeless person from loitering and neutralizing a pair of school shooters holding hostages. The instructor will help monitor the simulation, controlling what the simulated actors do and say in regard to the student’s methods.

Bill Hale, M.S., MBA, Pro-gram Director of the Mercyhurst Municipal Police Academy, is very proud of the recently implemented use of VR in the classroom.

“To offer some sort of simulation that is scenario-based, there is no method better,” Hale said. “This allows us as instructors to assist cadets in developing decision-making skills long before they are tested in the field after they become employed.”

Simulations such as these are important in the training of future police officers, Hale said. It is important for students to be prepared for any type of scenario, because an overactive mind-set in tense situations may lead to a lost life.

For example, one situation shown by the VR headset has the student pull over a rude and abrasive truck driver about to pull an unknown object out of his car. Shooting the driver out of fear would fail the simulation because he was only bringing out his wallet instead of a gun. The simulation is meant to properly train the officers in such situations, which have garnered increased scrutiny in recent years.

This technology also saves the cost of having prop environments or hiring people as ac-tors in the simulation. Headsets can also be scheduled into class times more easily than arranging for live simulations.

Hale even sees a future in which this technology can train students to handle an even broader range of situations.

“In the future, I think different facets of the police job can be wound into the VR training,” Hale said. “Crime scenes and possibly even court testimony can be simulated.”

The system came from the VR company named NSena. Their mission is to bring VR training to both law enforcement and Corrections facilities. They have created this technology due to it being virtually impossible to perfectly replicate the multitude of different areas and scenarios that a police officer may get involved in. The company also provides technology to correctional facilities in order to help prisoners succeed after they are released from prison.

The technology is used to help offenders train for regular day-to-day activities and conflicts that they will need to be prepared for in locations such as the home, a grocery store or a workplace.

Thanks to the NSena, law enforcement agencies, such as the Erie Police Academy, can have more effective training in regard to the many hypothetical scenarios in an officer’s job. According to Hale, the implementation of the technology is still a bit early to see how students feel about the system, but he said they have big plans for continuing its use in the future.

“Everyone that gave it a test drive was excited and called the experience valuable,” Hale said. “So, as we move into a new class in January, we’ll have our curriculum honed a little better and utilize the platform within the class modules.”