Virtual technology helps officers train for real-life situations

- The statistics are sobering. Figures released by the National Law Enforcement Officer's Memorial Fund show during last year alone, more than 130 police officers were killed nationwide. Of those who died, nearly half of them dying in firearms-related incidents, and 20 died in ambushes.

These days, departments are looking for new and better ways to train officers on how to successfully handle the latest crime trends, and the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) is utilizing some of the newest technology.

The technology, which is a five-screen, 300 degree virtual training ground, is designed to get the trainee's heart racing, adrenaline flowing, and immerse the person into the scene. DPS recently purchases seven of the system, with a goal to better train and prepare its officers.

The push to better train and prepare law enforcement officers come, amidst a wave of distrust, criticism, and attacks against officers across the country, and in Arizona.

"In the last six to eight months, there's been a lot of push for requests for de-escalation type training," said Scott Dilullo from Virtra. Dilullo is a former Marine, and retired from the Scottsdale Police Department after 20 years. "De-escalation doesn't just come from verbal skills, it comes from reactionary gaps from your tactics. How close you're getting, where you're positioning yourself."

The system is equipped with over 150 scenarios, and each can branch off into different endings. Depending on how the trainee reacts. The instructor can also change the outcomes. The incidents themselves are based on real-life experiences by former military and law enforcement officers.

During the training, officers use their own pistols and rifles, and a shock box is worn to add to the stress.

"We can immerse them, we can make it almost realistic enough that they can build experience, build knowledge they can revert back to when they're in a real life incident," said Dilullo.

"Perception is everything," said Mauricio Acuna, also with Virtra. Acuna, like Dilullo, is also a former Marine. "How an officer perceives things or how a citizen perceives things can change the consensus, can change outcomes, can change lives."

In an era where incidents caught on camera can easily go viral, and anyone can pick apart on a law enforcement officer's actions, training for officers now focuses on making good decisions, be it on whether to shoot or not to shoot, or taking the extra time to talk a suspect down.

"It's that split second that officers have to make a decision on what to do," said Dilullo.

The new system is unique, in the sense that there are different ways the scenario can branch off, so that trainee can't anticipate the same ending, every time.

"We could put a person with a baby, a carriage behind him," said Dilullo. "Is the officer going to fire? Should he fire then?"

The virtual system is considered to offer an experience that is next to reality. In addition, the training technology also feels real, as there is a fear of getting shocked when a person gets shot in the scenario.

"Hopefully, they make better decisions, better reaction times," said Dilullo. "It keep them safer, it keeps the suspect safer, it keeps the public safer."

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