UWPD using virtual reality to train officers de-escalation tactics

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -The University of Wisconsin Police Department is showcasing some new technology that is helping prepare officers for real-life, high-stress situations.

It’s a virtual reality program where officers strap on a headset and become immersed into another dimension.

“It’s very realistic,” said Lt. Juan Avila who helped bring the program to UWPD. “In the virtual world, we are still able to interact with the officers, talk to them, and make the subject in that system to react to what you’re talking about and what you’re doing,”

This is the VR headset being used to train police officers at UWPD
This is the VR headset being used to train police officers at UWPD(Tim Elliott)

Officers can run through a variety of different scenarios including an active shooter situation, traffic stops, and how to de-escalate a tense situation. De-escalation is a key component of police training, especially in today’s world.

“De-escalation is being able to interact and talk to a person, to create distance and be able to communicate,” said Lt. Avila.

De-escalation techniques are nothing new to police departments but introducing the training with VR is unique.

“When you run a training (in the real world) sometimes it takes two, three, or four, role pays as well as safety officers and instructors, so it is labor intensive,” said Lt. Avila. “But with this system, you have one person operating the computer, one person being your safety so it just kind of helps out,”

Lt. Beth Lopez operates the program and interacts with the officer training in the simulation
Lt. Beth Lopez operates the program and interacts with the officer training in the simulation(Tim Elliott)

UWPD started the process of bringing the program to campus in 2020. By late 2021, the training was in place and officers were getting a taste of the VR world.

“For me, it wasn’t too hard, I’m a gamer. I like video games. So, it was easy to adapt,” said Lt. Avila. “But we have some officers who have never done any gaming or seen anything this virtual way or a video game, so it has been harder for us to transition these officers,”

UWPD spent $50,000 on the new technology. Officials say the Madison Police Department saw was UWPD was doing and also purchased the same system. Both departments sometimes work alongside one another in training.

Just three officers are needed to implement this training
Just three officers are needed to implement this training(Tim Elliott)

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