Phoenix Police use virtual reality headsets to train for calls in the field

May 27, 2022, 4:35 AM | Updated: 9:13 am

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Police Department is one of the first law enforcement agencies in the country to use virtual reality to provide officers training in the field.

The department has partnered with Axon, a technology company that creates public safety tools, to simulate real-life emergency calls using virtual reality headsets.

Chris Chin, vice president of immersive technologies at Axon, said the technology can simulate scenarios like domestic abuse calls.

“You have a full six degrees of freedom movement in a virtual space, and you’re interacting with characters, situations and scenes,” Chin told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

He added the company wanted to make the simulation as realistic as possible for officers, so they found a way to let them use versions of their weapons in the simulation.

“We actually have our taser device, as well as a Glock sidearm, that you can actually employ within the scenario and deploy as you would in real life,” Chin said. “It’s as real-life as possible in an immersive setting.”

Chin said they use a version of the TASER 7 that has a virtual reality cartridge inside, allowing officers to use their own tools.

At a press conference on Tuesday, the CRO of Axon said the mission of the company is to “protect life and obsolete the bullet in public safety.”

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and Police Chief Jeri Williams also attended the press conference and said the feedback they received from officers was promising.

“81.4% of participants found that at least one of the virtual reality training scenarios prepared them to adapt their approach on a related call,” Gallego said.

Also, according to a study conducted by the National League of Cities, 59% of participants found that at least one of the modules encouraged them to see things from another perspective.

“What I’ve heard from our officers is it’s also much more effective training for them, that they really remember the experience and that they take it when they do go to doors to answer a domestic violence call,” Gallego said.

Williams explained the technology is helping officers develop critical thinking and de-escalation skills to use when they are in the field.

“It allows that officer to have the real-life training and make adjustments to how they respond and react to situations and scenarios and everything from domestic violence to mental health to behavioral health,” she said.

Gallego and Williams stressed how the convenience of the technology allows them to train police officers quicker.

The two said the technology can be brought to the Phoenix Police precincts, making training more accessible to officers.

“The city of Phoenix is more than 500 square miles,” Gallego said. “Many of our officers are in the field far from our training academy. The ability to go out and train in the police precincts means that we don’t have to have our officers take a day off from calls, it also means we can train more frequently.”

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Phoenix Police use virtual reality headsets to train for calls in the field