Locust Police eyes virtual training technology to help officers improve de-escalation skills

Published 1:49 pm Monday, March 14, 2022

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In order to help prevent stressful situations from possibly getting out of hand and leading to violence, the Locust Police Department is looking into purchasing a new virtual reality training simulation that would provide officers with opportunities to improve their decision-making and de-escalation skills.

During a presentation before the city council Thursday night, Locust Police Chief Jeff Shew said that with all the high-profile incidents over the years of police officers struggling with decision-making during intense situations, the virtual technology, manufactured by InVeris Training Solutions, could be “an absolute game changer for training our officers.”

The Survivor Virtual Reality Training Simulator, which includes a headset and a variety of realistic wireless weapons, offers fully customizable 3D scenarios for officers including what to do during active shooter situations, traffic stops, vehicle searches and while interacting with emotionally disturbed individuals. The department would be able to make each scenario unique for each individual officer by editing the environment (night vs. day, sunny vs. raining,) location (inside or outside), demographics of the suspect and type of situation.

“It’s the closest thing they’re going to experience without actually being there (in the field) and experiencing it and having to make a quick decision without having that training,” Shew said.

A demonstration of the technology took place a few weeks ago at Locust City Hall which attracted other departments, including Stanly County Sheriff’s Office and Concord Police Department.

The technology costs $33,000 and would include an InVeris official coming to Locust to train Sgt. Chad Whitley, who recently became a certified law enforcement firearms instructor, and a few other officers to operate as instructors, Shew said. Additional yearly software upgrades would cost $950.

“This system would allow us to essentially do monthly training with our officers in a variety of different scenarios that we can do right here with very limited logistics and very limited planning,” Shew said. “It will improve officer reaction, decision-making and most importantly de-escalation skills.”

Locust officers currently go through firearms training, which involves a combat course, once a year.

The idea to look into ways to provide more thorough training came after an individual with anti-law enforcement attitudes, who possessed a firearm, confronted an officer. There was a “brief scuffle,” Shew told council, as the officer tried to secure the firearm and the individual was eventually tased and taken into custody. Shew said there was discussion among several officers about what they would have done if they were in a similar situation.

In an email, Shew said if the council approved the department’s request for the technology, “our agency will be the first in the county and immediate area to have this technology and we believe it will make our officers better, more prepared, safer and more equipped to deal with the day to day possibilities that come with the duties of law enforcement.”

City Administrator Cesar Correa said council members expressed support for the training technology during their budget retreat, but they want more details regarding how the training would take place.

“Their game plan moving forward is they have requested a little bit more information from the chief on how the training would be scheduled and how many officers we would have that would be trained as instructors for the software,” Correa said.

As long as the additional information is provided, Correa estimated the council could approve of the new technology as early as the April council meeting. Funds would likely come from the upcoming budget and the department could then purchase the technology after July 1, which is the beginning of the 2022-2023 fiscal year.

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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