U of U-developed virtual reality aims to de-escalate police confrontations
(KUTV) A new virtual reality simulator will put cops in a real-world scenario to help teach them how to resolve situations through voice tone and body language.
Engineers at the University of Utah say they got the idea after seeing the highly-publicized cases of officer-involved shootings across the country over the last few years.
"We looked at what was out there and it was kind of like a light switch, it was like 'shoot or don't shoot', is it legal for us to shoot? What we decided is that we want police officers to be thinking more broadly," engineer Jed Merrill said.
Merrill and a team of developers began working with state law enforcement trainers and paired virtual-reality technology with real-world police scenarios.
Once in the simulator, an officer must make his way through a virtual house until he finds a suspect in a garage. The suspect stands up and then begins verbally confronting the officer. The simulator senses the officer's voice tone and hand movements and adjusts the suspect's motion accordingly.
"There are a hundred different things they could do when they are on the ground with someone," Merrill said.
Simulated training is nothing new for law enforcement, nor is de-escalation training. All state-certified police academies teach verbal de-escalation, and often pair it with real-life training using "simunition" weapons, which allows officers to actually shoot the weapon at the simulated suspect if they feel their life is threatened.
Despite the similarity to the already wide-spread training available, the team from the University of Utah says they believe they will find a market for police agencies who are willing to pay for the virtual reality simulator.
Follow Jeremy Harris on Twitter @jeremykharrisfor breaking news, updates and more.