WASHINGTON — While some are calling to defund police departments altogether, others are wondering how we can educate officers to respond differently. Here's a question that our #TheQandA team tackled today: what types of training programs are police getting about use of force?
To get that answer our team spoke to the Barnstable police department in Massachusetts about a virtual reality training system that they use.
The Barnstable police department partnered with Apex Officer, a virtual reality training platform, back in January. A member of our team spoke to officers who took the training and they said it is a huge improvement over old systems that they knew by heart.
Sergeant Kevin Connolly with the Barnstable Police Department has been an officer for 23 years. He says the Apex Officer virtual reality training platform is a game changer.
"What’s amazing in this training when you’re watching it, the officer will physically move back," Connolly said. "They will draw whatever tool they have to deal with that scenario presented to them. But the fact that they’re physically moving away when someone is running at them, getting out of the way, that they’re taking out their tool, you can see their breath is going, their heartbeat is racing, because in their virtual world someone is coming at them and this is bad. This has got to be dealt with."
Within a half hour Connolly said they can run through multiple scenarios.
"We can run through car stops, firing range, active shooters in buildings, active shooters in schools," Connolly said. "They now have courtrooms, they have military bases. They have all sorts of environments that you can put people in."
Connolly said the system gives them new perspective on situations.
"The thing is with the officers that are going through the virtual training, you also now have a second officer who is either being the compliant or noncompliant subject and they get to see it from that angle as well," Connolly said.
According to TJ Dishaw, Apex Officer’s Chief technology Officer, their training system is fully customizable and can be changed to address specific community needs.
"When the officers walk up to the car stop, they tell them 'put the window down,'" Connolly said. "The window goes down. Then they tell them, 'hey turn the interior light on.' Well they didn’t have that in the software and about a week later I get a call and they say do the update. Now when the officer says 'turn on your interior light,' they turn on the interior light."
Connolly told WUSA9 that this system is additional training. They’ve set it up in the building so officers in the Barnstable Police can use it every day.
"It keeps them on their toes," Dishaw said. "They don’t know when things are going to happen. So they have to assess it genuinely rather then again learning towards the simulator."
With a push for defunding police departments or reallocating funds for police, it begs the question, how much does this training system cost?
"It usually depends on the agency’s budget so… I can only say so much on that, but ours is a fraction of the cost," Dishaw said.
#TheQandA team asked Sergeant Connolly if he believes this training system could help reduce the number of killings by police officers using excessive force.
"All you can hope for is the more you go through scenarios and see different outcomes, it will help you make a decision in the field," Connolly said. "Because if you’ve seen that scenario before, as long as it’s similar, it should help."
According to Apex Officer’s CFO, there aren’t any police precincts in D.C., Maryland or Virginia that currently use the Apex Officer virtual reality training platform.