By Paul Grajek, Chief Marketing Officer, V-Armed
BROOKLYN, N.Y. - The Virtual Reality Training Unit at the Los Angeles Police Department has been expanding their VR training curriculum since late 2022 when they first installed their large-scale system in the Elysian Park academy. Reinforcing their commitment to the VR police training tools, the LAPD has developed a use of force class taught completely through virtual reality that has been certified by the California Peace Officer Standards and Training commission (POST).
Deputy Chief Marc Reina leads the LAPD VR Training Unit and has overseen its growth from the beginning. After honing their workflows over the past year, the VR Training Unit is now beginning to pilot the newly-accredited use of force curriculum. In a recent interview, Deputy Chief Reina said, “We felt because of the magnitude of virtual reality and how it impacts training in such a positive way that we wanted to create our own course - an 8-hour course of different scenarios within the virtual reality world to train our officers. And if we were going to do that, we wanted to make it POST certified to show not only our department personnel, but personnel throughout the state and outside the state that the POST standard has been met.”
The curriculum is intended to allow officers to fulfill a portion of their regular cycle of perishable skills training. Deputy Chief Reina went on to say, “So regardless if it is LAPD officers that are going through this training or a neighboring agency that wants to come over and go through it, they know they’re going through a training that’s been certified by the state and will count towards their overall hours they need in their two-year 24-hour cycle.”
One of the use of force examples trained in virtual reality is Tennessee vs. Garner, a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision. In the case, a Memphis police officer was chasing a burglary suspect from a building and then shot the suspect in the back as he went over a fence. For LAPD to simulate this example, they used a burglary of a vehicle, which is a scenario more common in Los Angeles. Alongside several other LAPD officers in VR, the instructors took on the avatars of a burglar and police officer in the scenario, and the instructor shoots the suspect as he flees. “It’s a shocking thing for the student,” says Sergeant Jonathan Lebel of the LAPD VR Training Unit. “And then when we talk about it, it’s not just some case law that happened back in the ‘70’s. It’s about an experience they just had and how that touches back to how they make decisions in the field.”
Deputy Chief Reina noted regarding the goals of the VR curriculum, “We’re always looking for de-escalation techniques, and the officers recognizing those de-escalation techniques. We always stress reverence for life, and that is the theme throughout this training.”
It can be difficult to measure the impact of educational changes in any workforce, but the LAPD is making strides in both objective and anecdotal measures to determine the effectiveness of VR training. In the short term, the VR Unit is collecting a pre- and post-training survey for each POST course trainee to determine how their knowledge of use of force concepts changes as a result of the 8-hour class. Deputy Chief Reina remarked about measuring the impact of VR training, “This POST certified class that we’ve created and other scenarios that we’ve already trained are relatively new. So, we are going to track them and compare it to our overall use of force data.”
LAPD Chief Michel Moore noted trends more broadly, “What I am hearing people say today that I didn’t hear three to five years ago are de-escalating terms, in dealing with individuals with edge weapons, people experiencing mental health crises, slowing things down, avoiding the use of loud shouts or lights. Those are all attributes that are being taught in VR as well as other parts of our training.”
To date, over 1,200 LAPD in-service officers have gone through some form of VR training in the agency’s custom-built system that currently resides in a 100-year-old multipurpose basketball court on their Elysian Park Academy campus. Twenty to thirty officers per day can train in the system that can accommodate up to ten people simultaneously in the same environment.
In looking back at the advent of VR training at the LAPD, Chief Moore shared, “When we started looking at the area of virtual reality, we saw a real opportunity. The technology of the last decade has grown significantly as far as capabilities. And we were particularly attracted to the V-Armed solutions where we saw NYPD experiment with it.” Chief Moore added, “We were drawn to the V-Armed system as what we see is best-in-class in its ability to not just equip an individual operator, but to work as a group and as teams in a basketball court-sized area, which really expanded the possibility of how we can use virtual reality in training scenarios to demonstrate tactics and strategies, and have members then go out and model that work in de-escalation and other trying circumstances.”
Regarding the community investment in police officer VR training so far, Chief Moore said, “We are grateful to the Los Angeles Police Foundation who raised $1.6 million for the acquiring of this installation in our facility.” But Moore’s LAPD isn’t letting their virtual reality training program grow stagnant, as he added, “I would hope in the next two to five years that we obtain our full time, all weather facility located at our original home, our academy. We’ve got some land set aside there and the foundation has expressed an interest in helping us fund that expansion.”
The eventual goal, according to Deputy Chief Reina, is to run VR training in a dedicated space so they can accommodate a constant flow of officer training according to each one’s work schedule and, “realistically do the training 24/7.”
For more on V-Armed VR training, visit https://www.v-armed.com/law-enforcement/.