An online solution to the law enforcement recruitment problem
The metaverse has the potential to alter how law enforcement agencies market themselves to the public and prospective applicants
This article is based on research conducted as a part of the CA POST Command College. It is a futures study of a particular emerging issue of relevance to law enforcement. Its purpose is not to predict the future; rather, to project a variety of possible scenarios useful for planning and action in anticipation of the emerging landscape facing policing organizations.
The article was created using the futures forecasting process of Command College and its outcomes. Managing the future means influencing it – creating, constraining and adapting to emerging trends and events in a way that optimizes the opportunities and minimizes the threats of relevance to the profession.
By Commander Bryan Millard
Consider the possibility that a law enforcement agency could increase its recruitment efforts, attract more diverse candidates and expand its technological expertise without leaving the confines of its physical building. Would this expanded capability be worth exploring?
This new frontier in technology and talent acquisition is called the metaverse. For law enforcement, the metaverse can be both an enhancement to current recruitment strategies and a signal of fundamental change in how candidates will be attracted in the future. Just as online job search portals replaced written classified ads, the metaverse has the potential to alter how law enforcement agencies market themselves to the public and prospective applicants.
The metaverse is not the conceptual purview of visionaries and futurists. In very tangible ways, the metaverse is available now for agencies that choose to lean forward and embrace technological possibilities. Law enforcement leaders must weigh the costs and benefits of adopting it early to offset the very real challenges of modern police recruiting.
What is the metaverse?
The term “metaverse” is credited to science fiction author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel, “Snow Crash.” In the novel, we are introduced to the metaverse through the eyes of the story’s main character, aptly named Hiro Protagonist. In Stephenson’s words, “Hiro’s not actually here at all. He’s in a computer-generated universe that his computer is drawing onto his goggles and pumping into his earphones. In the lingo, this imaginary place is known as the metaverse. Hiro spends a lot of time in the metaverse.” 
More recently, the Steven Spielberg movie “Ready Player One,” based on a book of the same name by Ernest Cline, gave life to the metaverse as a visually stunning shared virtual experience. Through the eyes of the main character Wade Watts, we are exposed to the “Oasis,” a networked virtual gaming platform of endless worlds where, in Watts’s words, “the limits of reality are your own imagination.”  In those examples, the metaverse is shown as an immersive virtual world meant to escape a dystopian reality. It’s a place where users wear advanced virtual technology gear and interact with each other as avatars, without the physical limitations of the real world. This makes for imaginative storytelling, but is this version of the metaverse consigned to science fiction films and other popular media? Not according to some very influential real-world corporations.
The metaverse today
The concept of the metaverse received a boost in popular discussion in late 2021 when social media giant Facebook rebranded itself to Meta and began heavy investments in metaverse technologies. In the past year, Meta has faced enormous public scrutiny and backlash for such investments not paying off in the short term. This has not stopped Meta from pushing forward. According to recent statements by CEO Mark Zuckerberg, “We’re not going to be here in the 2030s communicating and using computing devices that are exactly the same as what we have today. If someone has to build that and invest in it and believe in it, there’s a lot of new technology that needs to get invented to create that.” 
Since Meta’s pivot, companies across the technology spectrum have announced plans to develop and host metaverse platforms, create advanced virtual reality hardware systems, and coordinate with other corporations to decide on common operating standards for a shared metaverse system. Companies like Meta, graphics leader Nvidia and many others want to see a “Ready Player One” vision of the metaverse come to life. These corporate visionaries are investing millions of dollars to make it happen. As Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang said in 2020, “If the last 20 years were amazing, the next 20 will seem nothing short of science fiction. The metaverse is coming.” 
Nvidia is charting a different path for its metaverse platform, Omniverse, a virtual platform that allows creative development. According to a 2020 interview with Huang, “Not just a place to game, the metaverse ‘is where we will create the future … before downloading the blueprints to be [fabricated] in the physical world.’” 
The debate continues: Will the metaverse represent a major shift in how society conducts business and communicates, or will it be a novelty that fades with time? Certainly, earlier versions of a metaverse experience, such as the game Second Life, were limited to two-dimensional interfaces through much slower personal computers. Even some Meta executives admit current virtual reality hardware technology isn’t ideal. In one viral story, a Meta executive referred to the company’s own Oculus VR glasses as “wretched.” 
Apple, however, known for its broad consumer appeal, and whose prior innovations with the iPad and iPhone revolutionized the smartphone and tablet industry, is preparing to launch its own virtual reality product. According to a recent article in Bloomberg, “In offering both AR and VR technologies, Apple’s new headset takes a different tack than most existing models from companies like Meta and HTC Corporation … People with knowledge of the company’s plans have said the device will offer virtual collaboration tools and a VR version of FaceTime, rivaling services like Zoom and Meta’s Horizon Workrooms.”  In addition, Google is developing a portable holographic device that could eliminate VR glasses altogether.  The Sandbox, a software developer that already hosts metaverse experiences, envisions an open platform that could be utilized on a smartphone. 
Technological capability is increasing, but will society accept the metaverse as a mainstream method for social and business interaction? Society’s youth have already decided. Jordan McDonald, an emerging tech writer, estimates about half of all youth are playing and interacting with others in popular role-playing games and creative platforms like Roblox and Fortnite.  Popular artists like Travis Scott and Ariana Grande also use these platforms to hold concerts, attracting millions of virtual attendees.  Seeing the potential, corporations looking to cash in on the metaverse are leveraging their real-world credibility by setting up virtual versions of their companies. One example is Gucci, which created a virtual version of its store to market virtual merchandise inside Roblox. 
This virtual evolution is not limited to gaming. Educational institutions are exploring the metaverse to increase their appeal with today’s generation and in collaborative partnerships with government.
In February 2022, Western New England University held its first virtual open house. Prospective students could log in to tour the campus and interact with current students.  To further this effort, Meta has made $150 million available to universities that want to create immersive VR learning experiences or virtual versions of their campuses.
At the University of Southern California, the Institute for Creative Technologies is partnering with the U.S. Army to create virtual reality scenarios to assist in recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder. “With the use of VR, patients don’t have to just imagine the environment in which their trauma occurred, as is the case with imaginal exposure therapy,” wrote one author describing the effort. “Instead, patients can see it again themselves.” 
These examples are clear indicators that virtual reality and the metaverse are emerging technological tools being woven into the fabric of society.
What does this mean for law enforcement?
Law enforcement recruiting has been called a workforce crisis by industry experts. According to a 2019 study by the Police Executive Research Forum, “There are indications that the current crisis in police recruiting is part of a long-term trend.”  The report also says, “Fewer people are applying to become police officers, and more people are leaving the profession, often after only a few years on the job.”  If this lack of interest in the profession continues, policing will need to consider alternative recruitment strategies to survive.
Recently, a few corporations have used metaverse technology to offer virtual recruitment fairs for potential employees.  Like virtual university orientations, prospective job applicants log in as avatars and interact with human resources staff. While in-person screening and testing is essential, one of the main challenges we face is finding applicants willing to step in the door and apply. Could this model be applied in law enforcement recruitment?
Consider the following scenario: The year is 2025. Max, a young adult, has just graduated college or perhaps completed military service. They are ready to choose their next step, but not quite sure what they want to do. From the comfort of their home, they log into their favored metaverse platform to explore a virtual landscape, interact with friends or shop at online businesses. Their avatar walks past a virtual police department building with the words “We’re hiring!” in bright letters.
Curious, Max walks through the front door and meets with a member of the department. They can also spend time with a smart AI system designed to answer basic questions about the police department. Max sees options available to experience what it’s like to drive a police car, tour the police department or even have fun solving a case. “Come back as often as you want, Max,” his AI guide says. “Bring your friends, and you can even sit in on an academy class to see what it will be like when you join the force.” An icon appears in Max’s vision, allowing their avatar a temporary “skin” dressed in a police uniform. “Yes,” Max thinks, “this may be a career worth considering. The uniform does look pretty good!”
Could this online recruiting portal benefit a law enforcement agency’s ability to attract candidates, especially if it was available 24 hours a day to anyone who could log in? In 2002 the U.S. Army launched an online first-person shooter game named “America’s Army” as an innovative recruitment tool; it was completely free for anyone to download and play. By 2008, a study found “30% of all Americans ages 16 to 24 had a more positive impression of the Army because of the game and, even more amazingly, the game had more impact on recruits than all other forms of Army advertising combined.” 
A virtual metaverse recruitment scenario may not be as far away as you think. The technology already exists to make this potential a reality.
Personnel at the Sacramento Fire Department recently filmed a scenario where someone with a commercially available VR headset could experience what it’s like to be a firefighter.  A police department in the United Arab Emirates recently unveiled a virtual version of its police station so its community could interact with officers from their homes.  Manufacturers like Axon and Apex Officer already offer virtual reality training systems to police departments, [20,21] and VR systems are showing up in collegiate criminal justice programs.
According to Justin Medina, Ph.D., an assistant professor of criminal justice and criminology at Lycoming College, “This virtual reality simulator is a great way for the police to practice those skills and for the public to understand the challenges of law enforcement. VR is a great tool for students intending to work in law enforcement or a criminal justice profession.” 
Youth playing immersive role-playing games and going to schools where virtual technology is utilized will have a greater expectation of seeing it when they enter the workforce. According to a recent report, “The State of Gen Z,” by the Center for Generational Kinetics, up-and-coming workers of this generation believe the technology industry will have the best career opportunities in the future.  This means businesses that want to attract the best candidates will need to make sure technology is at the forefront of their culture.
VR recruiting as the new hiring tool
For law enforcement to remain relevant and technologically progressive and attract the best and brightest candidates, agencies should leverage metaverse-related technologies. Law enforcement leaders must critically evaluate what they can do to stay ahead of less forward-thinking competitors.
In October 2022, Interpol launched a metaverse platform to allow law enforcement collaboration across the globe. “The metaverse has the potential to transform every aspect of our daily lives with enormous implications for law enforcement,” said Madan Oberoi, Interpol’s executive director of technology and innovation. “But in order for police to understand the metaverse, we need to experience it.” 
Does a VR recruitment and training system make sense, allowing current personnel to normalize to the technology and attracting tech-focused young recruits? Would the purchase of a 360-degree camera and VR glasses to show a virtual scenario be effective at recruitment fairs? Is there IT capacity to create a virtual police department and host it on a department website or metaverse platform? Perhaps an agency can partner with a local college where this technology and interested students may already exist. Committing to an interactive platform the metaverse will host is a necessary element for future success.
It may not resemble what Hollywood envisions, but there appears little doubt the metaverse is on its way. Youth experiencing immersive games and virtual educational experiences will become adults looking for career opportunities with technological sophistication in the near future. There are many choices for evolving the metaverse, and more are emerging. However, with the challenge to recruit law enforcement candidates so pressing, the real question leaders must answer is whether they have a choice to wait at all.
This is a call to the law enforcement leaders of today: It’s time to embrace new ideas and appeal to the younger generation. Strap them in a virtual reality chair, place a pair of futuristically styled VR glasses on their eager faces and let them experience a day in the life of a police officer. This is 21st-century police recruiting.
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About the author
Bryan Millard is a 22-year law enforcement veteran, currently serving as the Support Services Commander for the Grover Beach Police Department. Commander Millard’s prior service includes 16 years at the Morro Bay Police Department, where he worked in patrol, as a field training officer, field training supervisor, crisis negotiator, Police Explorer advisor, Patrol Sergeant and the Operations Commander. Commander Millard then served four years as the Chief of Police for Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo, California, before accepting his current assignment in the City of Grover Beach in 2020. Commander Millard holds a Bachelor of the Arts degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a Master of Public Administration from California State University, Dominguez Hills. He is also a graduate of the Sherman Block Supervisory Leadership Institute, Class 259; the LAPD Leadership Program, #08-15; and graduated from California P.O.S.T. Command College, Class 69, in February 2023.