Michigan Agency's New VR Training Emphasizes De-Escalation, Less Lethal

The Battle Creek Police Department will soon add training for its officers utilizing four newly acquired virtual reality headsets.

Doug Wyllie Crop Headshot

Late last month, the Battle Creek (MI) Police Department will soon add training for its officers utilizing four newly acquired virtual reality headsets after the Battle Creek City Commission recently approved a $330,000 budget to acquire the VR equipment as well as more than 50 TASERs.

According to the Battle Creek Inquirer, Chief Jim Blocker said in a letter to commissioners considering the purchase of the new training equipment, "With ever increasing demands being placed on law enforcement the department has been looking for alternative means of training beyond traditional methods."

Blocker added that current training has a "significant impact on operations, requiring several officers/blocks of hours and is course specific" and that the new VR technology will help ameliorate that problem.

Providing Time and Space

When it comes to conducting in-service training, one of the biggest impediments police agencies face is the relative dearth of time and space. Setting up reality-based training (RBT)—replete with role players and marking rounds (Simunitions) and safety officers and secure locations—can become prohibitively cumbersome and costly.

Chief Blocker in Battle Creek says that the new equipment will help enable officers to undergo regular training in a shortened timeframe and with fewer resources—20- to 30-minute sessions with one or two officers and a proctor—than was previously possible.

He also says that training in the virtual reality realm will enable trainers to place officers a wide array of scenarios as the agency works toward greater emphasis on de-escalation tactics and less lethal tools such as the newly acquired TASER ECDs.

"This opportunity provides a virtual environment where officers can go through those different interactions and experience different decisions, which are better for the community so that person goes home and that officer goes home," Blocker told WWMT-TV.

Blocker told WXMI-TV that the training will prepare BCPD officers to deal with individuals who are mentally ill, or experiencing "some of the challenge with an overdose or just someone that is really upset."

Physical Fitness Focus

As much as VR training equipment opens up new possibilities for training situations in sterile, safe environments, they do no truly mirror police work in the real world, which is grittier, dirtier, far less clear, and infinitely less forgiving—there are no "do overs."

This means that officers must remain physically fit for the job, and focused on the skills only hands-on DT training can provide. Interestingly, Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards (MOCLES) does not specify any minimum requirements for in-service defensive tactics training.

Most agencies in the "Mitten State" mandate between four and eight hours of annual DT training, but a substantial number of individual officers seek additional physical skills training—on their own time and their own dime—in MOCLES-approved classes and/or a variety of martial arts disciplines.

As was covered extensively in the April issue of POLICE, the benefits of participating in any form of martial art are the increased fitness and flexibility one gains, as well as the psychological effect of enhanced self-awareness and self-assuredness.

A continued focus on physical skills combined with VR, classroom, and other scenario training can help officers remain ready for whatever they might encounter on patrol.

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