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Virtual reality helps police train to de-escalate situations

Maryland State Trooper using an Apex Virtual Reality police training simulator. (Don Treeger / The Republican/TNS)

The officer in the virtual-reality goggles spoke in firm, but not excited tones as he promised the alleyway drunk a safe ride home if only the slurring man stepped away from the knife.

“It’s slowing the situation down. He got the person’s name. He spoke to him about getting help,” said Westfield Police Capt. Jerome Pitoniak after showing a video of officers in Maryland training with VR goggles. A police trainer played the role of the drunk.

State Senator John Velis(left), talks with Westfield Mayor Michael McCabe during a visit to Westfield police headquarters (Don Treeger / The Republican/TNS)

The officer undergoing the training uses a simulated firearm.

Within about a month, officers on Westfield’s 82-person force will be able to do the same de-escalation training on the same virtual reality equipment thanks to a $59,800 state earmark secured by state Sen. John C. Velis, D-Westfield.

Apex, the manufacturer, gave Westfield a 50% discount on the $119,600 system, he said. The company’s hope is to get it in wider use here. Now, only the town of Barnstable Police Department on Cape Cod has it.

Maryland State Trooper using an Apex Virtual Reality police training simulator. (Don Treeger / The Republican/TNS)

“No department of our size has this kind of technology in-house,” said Chief Lawrence Valliere. “This is the future of police training. To me, it’s amazing.”

Valliere said de-escalation and use-of-force procedures are top-of-mind for police forces all across the country. Westfield, he said, wants to make the equipment available to neighboring departments as well,

Velis recalled being exposed to this type of “shoot-don’t-shoot” simulated training in the U.S. Army Reserves.

State Senator John Velis stands with Westfield Mayor Michael McCabe (L) and Westfield Police Chief Lawrence Valliere as they hold a check from the state for $59.800 (Don Treeger / The Republican/TNS)

He added that in his talks with police, he’s told that domestic violence situations are especially dangerous.

“Maybe (this equipment) will save a life,” Velis said.

Pitoniak said the beauty of the system is that it allows police to train any time of day or night. If the night shift is slow, police can train right at the station. Now, work like this can only be done on a firing range and only during the day.


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