Pennsylvania police department using VR for de-escalation training

Police officers in Bucks County are undergoing de-escalation training through the lens of virtual reality.

The Central Bucks Regional Police Department (CBRPD) received a federal grant worth $159,037 to launch the program as the lead agency with partners including Buckingham, Doylestown and Plumstead Township police departments.

The program is designed to reduce the intensity of police encounters with the public during intense situations. The department is using Apex Officer, which is a virtual reality police training simulator.

"The scenarios are based on what [officers] do every day. It’s real world, so that’s why we’re getting such positive feedback from the officers because this is something that they can use every single day that benefits them, that benefits our community, and any interaction we have," said Captain Robert Milligan, the master instructor of the program.

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Police in Bucks County are using VR to train in de-escalation.

The instructors have created scripts for several real-life scenarios including a mental health crisis, a suicidal person, suspicious person, domestic disturbance, theft in progress, an unknown problem and duty to intervene with an officer interacting with the public.

The VR simulator allows trainers to choose from various locations which range from an apartment complex to an alley and a supermarket to a gentlemen’s club.

The trainer can also choose which character the officer is interacting with, the character’s behavior and any potential weapons they may be carrying.

The goal is to always reach a peaceful resolution, and after the 3D simulation, the training officer will debrief the scenario with the instructor.

"When you go back and he points something out you’re like, ‘oh yeah, wait a minute. I definitely could’ve done that different or done that a little bit better or said something else,’ so that part really helps," said Officer Sean Tropiano of CBRPD who’s also an VR de-escalation instructor.

Central Bucks Police is the only department in Pennsylvania to receive this federal grant from the DOJ Community Oriented Police Services for de-escalation efforts.