Lancaster County police introduce virtual reality training

LACASTER COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — Police in Lancaster County are adding a new training tool to their arsenal: virtual reality. The first group of officers tried out the new technology in August.

This is brand new for Northern Lancaster County Regional Police, who say VR lets them study how officers react to different situations — in a safe environment.

Sgt. David Burdis introduced the first few officers to the new tool, calling it, “the future of some training.”

Officer Alexandria Hahn has been with the police department for seven years. She tried out the new training tool on Tuesday, her first time ever using VR.

“It’s very realistic, very much like how you deal with everything out in the street,” she said.

The system offers multiple scenarios, such as a domestic situation or individuals under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Officer like Hahn walk through each scenario as an officer, sometimes getting background information along the way.

“There’s an officer going up to the front door and knocking on the door,” Hahn said, describing the beginning of a domestic violence scenario.

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The officers also have to make choices that change the way the scenario unfolds.

“There’s two options, bring the couple together or keep the couple apart. I’d want to keep the couple apart,” Hahn said.

A unique feature is that the system offers two perspectives, both the officer’s and that of the person they’re speaking to.

“Seeing both of those while you’re in the scenario just is eye opening,” Hahn said.

Burdis said VR is a way to test the officer’s instincts for potentially dangerous situations in a totally safe environment.

“[It] gives you the ability to put officers in a different scenario that you can’t really create in the real world,” he said.

The department is just getting started with VR, but early feedback is promising.

“It’s pretty cool seeing yourself in the situation,” Hahn said.

Burdis said the scenarios do not reflect every reality officers face, but he hopes officers can learn different skills and ways to handle challenges.

“If they can use it one time on the street, it was worth this wait,” he said.

There are almost 10 scenarios currently in the system, and Burdis said more interactive ones are coming, including some that officers and their partners can do together. He also said some scenarios will allow him or another trainer to alter the scenario in real time.

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