Lancaster PD Allowed Me To Participate In Virtual Reality Training, It’s An Eye-opener

Woman with virtual reality headset on
Photo courtesy Rita Cook

Real Life Scenarios Give Officers Additional Training Experience

LANCASTER – Last week the Lancaster Police Department invited me to the PD headquarters to experience exactly what officers go through during virtual reality training depicting real-life scenarios.

The training is done every year by the Texas Municipal Police Association (TMPA). In the past the training has been more of a video on a screen with interaction. This year’s training was the first time it was a virtual experience.

The immersive virtual reality training system puts the officers inside different scenarios. These scenarios include domestic disputes, mental health calls, traffic stops, and active shooter situations.

Officers have both their sidearm and taser with them as they experience the virtual reality making choices in each situation as to what they will do in a split-second decision.

I watched a few officers go through the virtual reality series of scenarios before I did it myself. Finally, I had the TMPA trainer put the virtual reality goggles on me, it was my turn.

Three Scenarios, Split Second Decisions

It was eye opening in many ways. I became part of three different scenarios during my interactive experience; an active shooter scenario, a mental health call and a domestic dispute.

I only had a sidearm and not a taser on the belt I was wearing. I realized the decision to use a sidearm or a taser is such an impactful one and it is made in the split second of life and death.

Also, I learned the most important thing I could do was to try and de-escalate a situation. Furthermore, I realized my split-second decision does make a lasting footprint.

The virtual reality program used, according to Lancaster PD, is a computer program, Street Smarts VR (for virtual reality). This program uses cutting-edge hardware, scalable software, and different choices of scenario content.

“When the officer puts on the goggles and other gear, we explain to them what’s going to take place,” said Bryan Flatt, Training Coordinator with the Texas Municipal Police Association. “The only thing the officer can see is the virtual reality around them. Their arms, hands, legs, their entire body is invisible to them. We start with a virtual office, with cubicles, the kind of thing everyone is familiar with, and let them walk around in that and get their bearings as to how the virtual reality works before beginning any scenarios.”

Overall, it takes about 45 minutes to run the course with an officer for the training. I wasn’t even keeping time how long each scenario took me to run through it.

woman being coached to use VR headset
Photo courtesy Rita Cook

A Big Step Forward In Law Enforcement Training

After I finished my three scenarios I was given a debrief about the choices I made and how I had interacted in each situation overall.

Lancaster Police Chief Sam Urbanski said he thinks these video games using virtual reality technology is a big step forward in law enforcement training.

“Training has always been the Lancaster Police Departments top priority,” Urbanski concluded. “I am excited that training and technology are coming together with virtual reality. I am proud that our department is moving into the future.”