Anniston Police Get New Virtual Reality Training Kit | Local news
With the growth of virtual reality in the digital age, which allows for simulated three-dimensional views of real-life situations, law enforcement is using the technology to redefine training techniques.
The Anniston Police Department is now using a virtual reality (VR) training simulator, as well as new, state-of-the-art tasers for all officers in the department. Powered by the company AXON, the virtual reality system allows officers to go through scenarios they might encounter on the job to better equip the officer with the skills to handle that situation.
For example, imagine if a man threatens an officer with a knife. The officer draws his firearm and orders him to drop it. The man does so, but then begins charging at the officer without the knife. If the officer shoots, he has to explain to the department, the city, the board and that person’s family why he just shot an unarmed man.
Previous training simulations were conducted on something called a Firearms Training Simulator (FATS), but it was lacking in certain areas that the new virtual reality system makes up for, according to Anniston Police Chief Nick Bowles.
“Some of the obvious advantages are [trainees] be more familiar with the team,” Bowles told the Anniston Star on Wednesday.
The older machine required officers to train using modified weapons, while the new technology, used in conjunction with a new style of taser, allows officers to train and carry the same taser using a special cartridge, Bowles explained.
When the VR cartridge is loaded into it, the taser functions as a training instrument only.
Newer tasers also have interchangeable cartridge capabilities that allow the officer to switch from intermediate to long-range cartridges with a flick of the wrist.
With the option to train officers on your specific weapon, it allows them to become familiar with that weapon before they need it on the job.
Cpl. Cailee Chaffin demoed the system to an Anniston Star reporter, calling the new VR system “easy to use”. Chaffin said she believed the machine would be particularly useful as it allows officers to train themselves with reaction times. The old FATS system did not include a person closing a gap or “rushing” officers, while the new system does.
“The goal is to train everyone in the department on its use and then at least five people, if not more, trained on how the system actually works,” Bowles said.
He intends to put one machine on the day shift and one on the night shift, so that all officers in the department have the opportunity to train on it.
Bowles said he also wants to train APD’s recruiting team on the device so team members can extol it to potential job candidates.
“Young people today grew up playing. They grew up on Xbox and Playstation and now that VR has taken over, we have another way to bridge that gap,” Bowles said.
Bowles said he also sees opportunities to educate the community about the types of training officers go through. If people see a negative tactic being used by law enforcement on the news, this tool can help educate the public about scenarios law enforcement regularly deal with in real life.
“They don’t understand how fast someone is coming at you trying to attack you with a knife or attack you and not respond to your commands,” Bowles said.
This allows the public to see what a police officer has to do in real time without the department having to put that person in danger, Bowles said.
APD Drill Sgt. Justin Hartley said that the system is so new that it has very limited capacity at the moment. Hartley said he believes Anniston is one of five state departments that have the system. However, parent company AXON will be adding more programs and scenarios to the device on a quarterly basis.
“As AXON includes more scenarios, we download them to our headsets free of charge. They are going to push those updates based on community participation,” Bowles said.
Currently, the scenarios are reactive to real situations police are dealing with, such as a mass shooting in a public place. AXON creates simulations around rare events so that if one occurs, officers are prepared.
“It’s better than a memo that says, Hey, watch out for this, or watch this YouTube video, read this article about this department being sued.” Bowles said.
“This is just a more realistic way to experience the real world and let them make mistakes here. I’d rather they make a mistake here than make a mistake in the world,” he continued.
The VR system is a more economically viable means of training. Firing a single Taser cartridge costs the department $40, which means that, whether for training or not, each time the trigger is pulled it costs the department $40. It adds up quickly, Hartley said.
With virtual reality, law enforcement can train without firing real rounds, saving the department money in the long run. The VR system costs about $2,000 per VR machine, plus the cost of new Tasers and other related equipment, like a special Velcro-enclosed suit that allows officers to shoot the person wearing the suit without them the person is harmed.
The city has allocated $200,000 for the department to purchase all new equipment, which will be paid for over time.
“They are an investment, but any lawsuit you get into, you have to pay $200,000 in a lawsuit is a drop in the bucket,” Hartley said.
The big picture is that it saves lives, Bowles said, and that $200,000 is worth it even if it saves one life.
Staff Writer Ashley Morrison: 256-236-1551. On Twitter: @AshMorrison1105.