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Tempe-based company offering virtual reality training for police officer

Posted at 10:35 PM, Nov 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-02 09:35:23-04

It's not always easy for police to know when deadly force is needed. Often times, it is a split second decision. If the officer is right — they're a hero. If they're wrong, they could be convicted in court or even killed. 

To help prepare police for this reality, a company in Tempe is developing cutting edge, virtual reality training. 

VirTra develops all-immersive virtual reality training for law enforcement. 

Check out this 360-degree view of the simulator (viewer discretion is advised):

Real actors play out scenarios that are projected onto a nearly 360-degree screen that surrounds the officer. The scenarios then unfold like a choose your own adventure book. 

Each decision the officer makes can change how the characters react; their reactions selected by a control operator running the simulator.  Each simulation has several possible endings depending on what kind of training the officer is working to achieve. 

Sometimes things get violent. Other times, the officer talks the suspect into surrendering and saving lives. 

The idea is to mimic real-world stress. 

"I need to induce the stress in a training environment so that you then are forced to make decisions under stress so that you get better at making those decisions later on under stressful conditions in real-world environments," said Lon Bartel, a former police officer and use of force expert for VirTra.

The training includes a system called ThreatFire. The officer wears a battery pack that delivers an electric shock if the officer fails to respond correctly to deadly threats. 

"[This] psychologically replicates that, 'Okay, if I don't pick up on that threat, if I don't stop that threat, I'm going to get hurt," said Bartel. He added that this type of training is referred to as a "pain penalty" for mistakes. 

Conventional use of force training involves role players using paint marking rounds. This training requires bulky protective equipment with masks that hide facial expressions; a big part of human emotion that help police recognize the threatening behavior.  

Being able to read those facial expressions is a big advantage of the virtual training. Another advantage is being able to rewind the scenario for an after action report that shows exactly what the officer did and didn't to correctly. It also allows for a discussion: Did the officer make the right decision?

"Not only do we have to deal with those types of events, you then have to live with those events after it's done," said Bartel.