The QuestionCould immersive virtual reality training reduce police reliance on lethal force when interacting with persons with mental health disabilities?
The IssueVarious inquests and reviews have made recommendations for improving police interaction with persons with mental health disabilities. In his July 2014 report titled Police Encounters with People in Crisis (The Iacobucci Report), retired justice Iacobucci directed 84 recommendations at one Ontario police service, several of those specifically relating to officer training. While many of the recommendations were implemented, in the three years following the release of the Iacobucci Report (2014), and justice Iacobucci’ s suggestion that police “should set a goal of zero harm in all police interactions” (p. 213), training techniques and technologies have remained stagnant while the number of police encounters with persons with mental health disabilities continues to rise.
The ChallengeOne way to enhance training and learning is through critical thinking, and reflection on previous failures; but how can the police provide realistic training that capitalizes on the experience of failure when real-life failure can result in death?
A Potential SolutionResearch has been critical of police training that is often more reflective of traditional teaching methods while lacking relevance in operational realities (Birzer, 2003; Shipton, 2009; Oliva & Compton, 2010). The VirTra V-300TM (Virtra Systems, 2018) is a firearms simulator that uses five large screens to immerse officers in a 300-degree realistic training environment. The scenarios employ police-centric teaching in authentic policing situations to ensuring knowledge transfer to real life situations. Immersive virtual reality training can simulate many environments leading to realistic scenarios as diverse as those encountered daily by front-line officers. Because the simulations adapt in real-time, officers are encouraged to leverage every aspect of their training, including de-escalation and disengaging. Training with immersive virtual reality technology could increase officers’ competence by improving their communication skills, enhancing their observation and lateral thinking skills, and improving their judgement when encountering persons who pose an immediate threat.
VR technology, when used in groups, can enhance training using Social Learning Theory (Bandura, 1986). For the use of the VirTra V-300TM to be effective at improving police interactions, debriefing each scenario from the perspective of participants, observers and instructors is crucial. Students learn not only from participating in their own scenarios and the debriefs that follow, but also by observing their peers, participating in those debriefs, adopting what worked well and avoiding what did not work. With the ever-evolving role of police, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, formerly discouraged, are required for officers to carry out their oath to serve and protect. Encouraging critically reflective practice (Brookfield, 1998) through the use of immersive virtual reality training could lead to a departure of critical thinking and reflection as part of the hidden curriculum and see them moved to the fore of training, and doing so may help police services get a step closer to the goal of zero harm.
ReferencesBirzer, M. L. (2003). The theory of andragogy applied to police training. Policing: An
International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 26(1), 29-42. doi:10.1108/13639510310460288
Brookfield, S. (1998). Critically reflective practice. Journal of Continuing Education in the
Health Professions, 18(4), 197-205. doi:10.1002/chp.1340180402
Iacobucci, F. (2014, July). Police Encounters with People in Crisis. An Independent
Review Conducted by the Honourable Frank Iacobucci for Chief of Police, William Blair, Toronto, Police Service
Khan, A. (2013) Police kill woman attacking with knife [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=21
Oliva, J. R., & Compton, M. T. (2010). What do police officers value in the classroom? Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 33(2), 321-338. doi:10.1108/13639511011044911
Shipton, B. (2009). Problem based learning: Does it provide appropriate levels of guidance and flexibility for use in police recruit education? Journal of Learning Design, 3(1). doi:10.5204/jld.v3i1.55
Virtra Systems. (2018). Judgmental use of force & de-escalation scenario training Simulators [Website]. Retrieved July, 2018, from https://www.virtra.com/