By MICHAEL BALSAMO, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) – A combative man approaches and moves quickly toward a police officer pulling a Taser forward. The man is wearing a heavy jacket, which could mean that the legs that would generate an electronic current and send him to the ground may not work.
It’s a scenario that unfolds over and over again for police officers across the United States, sometimes with fatal consequences. The scenario was highlighted recently with the police lethal shot of Patrick Lyoya, who was shot in the back of the head by an officer in Grand Rapids, Michigan, during a fight after the officer tried to fire his Taser twice at Lyoya. Both times it was ineffective. If it had been effective, it is possible that the incident would have ended by then.
Axon, the company best known for developing Taser, is expanding a virtual reality and immersive training program that aims to increase the training of officers with Tasers in lifelike scenarios and familiarize them with split-second decisions, including where to go shoot the tips of the weapon to incapacitate a suspect without having to turn to deadly force.
Axon has grown to become one of the largest technology companies for police agencies in the United States and supplies large and small departments – including a majority of the largest forces in the country – with Tasers and body cameras. The new training, which will be formally launched on Tuesday, is the latest in the company’s virtual reality programs and is linked to other real-life training simulations, including answering calls with people with autism and domestic violence.
The virtual reality training, which uses headsets, wrist controllers and an officer’s actual Taser with a special virtual reality cartridge, is gathered in a small bag, allowing the police departments to implement the training during name calls or for officers at a police station, between calls . It also means that officers can undergo training all the time instead of being called out to a gym or a police academy.
“The level of repetition and really kind of training for things that are more realistic that they do not necessarily have the time or resources for, it just enables them to do it in a much better way, a more immersive way,” he said. Chris Chin, Vice President of Immersive Technologies at Axon.
The portable setup and the constant access have been praised by departments that have piloted the program. For many police departments, training simulators have proven to be expensive and required two-dimensional screens to be built in a police academy or other building. With Axon’s new equipment, an officer only needs a few feet around him, and the program can be performed remotely, with a trainer elsewhere or work from home.
The training also gives officers the opportunity to train on a virtual shooting range, in addition to the three-dimensional space where several suspects approach. The training is aimed at enabling officers to quickly identify when and how to fire their weapons – including whether they need a denser or wider spread so that tips and wires that carry the electric current override the person’s central nervous system and temporarily disable them. .
The training program will be expanded, and Axon has already begun creating another scenario that incorporates Taser training into a scenario with a call for abuse in the home.
“We actually want to have something that is very fluid, mobile, and that can be thrown in the back of a vehicle, can be done before the name call or after the name call,” Chin said. “It can be done in a way where you can actually have coaches and interns in different places.”
In New Castle, Delaware, nearly all police officers have reviewed Axon’s community training programs, and the department is expanding with the new Taser training program.
The virtual reality simulations now mean that officers in a force of about 350 can train during each shift, including overnight, said master Michel Eckerd.
“We always do new and innovative things,” Eckerd said. “The great thing about this is the convenience and portability.”
Axon already offers police departments virtual reality community engagement training, developed with the help of mental health experts, community advocates and other experts, and designed to put officers in real-life scenarios to de-scale a situation and deal with victims or suspects during a call. The company partnered with Phoenix police to put officers through nine training modules. A report from the National League of Cities showed that more than 80% of the officers who underwent the training said that it had prepared them to adapt their approach to a related call, and almost 60% said that the training encouraged them to to see a situation from a different perspective.
“This virtual reality training gives the officer a chance to experience an incident from multiple perspectives,” Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said in an interview. “So an officer could go to a call for domestic violence from an officer’s perspective and then have a chance to go to the same incident from a victim’s perspective.”
Gallego also highlighted portability as a major advantage in a city like Phoenix, where going to the police academy could mean a nearly one-hour ride for an officer. With virtual reality headsets, officers could just train in their area and did not have to be pulled away from the patrol for an entire day.
“The more we can have tools that are agile and give us flexible training, the less time we officers take off the street, and the more we can achieve real results,” she said.
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