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Danbury Police Experience Axon Network's Virtual Reality Training

Danbury police officers were able to explore Axon Network's virtual reality training simulator fit for critical thinking and de-escalation. The department did not purchase the equipment, but plan to if it aligns with their budget.

(TNS) — Virtual reality is not part of the Danbury police officer training, but it could be.

Technology and weapons development company Axon Network showed staff at Danbury police headquarters on Thursday how virtual reality and simulator technology can better prepare officers for complex situations that require critical thinking and de-escalation.

"It's really, really realistic," Mayor Dean Esposito said after trying one of Axon's training modules.

After putting on a virtual reality headset, Esposito was immersed twice in a scenario involving a schizophrenic man — first from the point of view of the man, then from the point of view of an off-duty police officer encountering him.

Virtual reality is one of the latest products Axon has been working on to improve policing, along with officer and community safety. The company began n 1993 making stun guns as Taser International, then moved on body cameras in the mid-2000s.

Axon Senior Regional Manager Mark Swenson said police departments don't get enough training, but virtual reality equipment and simulation technology can help "fill the gap between what officers are and are not getting."

Danbury police officers are equipped with Axon body cameras, but the department has not purchased the company's virtual reality and simulation technology — not yet at least.

"If it can fit in the budget," Chief Patrick Ridenhour said, adding incorporation of virtual reality could improve officers' training.

Axon solution specialist and former law enforcement officer Clint Collins agreed, adding virtual reality and simulation technology training can lead to better outcomes rather than relying on traditional training methods like classroom instruction and role-playing.

Traditional methods be time-consuming, limited, expensive and unrealistic, Collins said, but those trained using virtual reality tend to retain information better than those who don't.

"Virtual reality is the solution to effective police training," he said, adding retention rates among virtual reality users is around 80 percent.

Collins said virtual reality's immersion makes a difference because it "creates a memory."

In addition to reinforcing situational learning objectives and deescalation tactics, virtual reality can help officers sharpen firing-range skills and practice deescalation techniques.

With simulator training, the goal is to prepare officers to make well-informed, split-second decisions, Collins said, adding "proactive thinking instead of reacting" can prevent escalation.

Simulation modules, like the one Esposito tried on Thursday, give officers the opportunity to practice responding to different types of calls — from those involving individuals who are mentally ill or cognitively impaired to officer-in-crisis situations and domestic violence situations.

Danbury Police Officer and Crisis Intervention Team Coordinator Peter Elste said having virtual reality technology could help officers and the community.

"The CIT team, we respond to crisis situations everyday — from people dealing with depression, mania, homelessness — even things that aren't in our wheelhouse," he said.

Esposito said he favors investing in virtual reality training equipment and technology for Danbury's police force.

"The goal is to get you the best training possible. It keeps you safe and the community safe," he said. "I support that 100 percent."

©2022 The News-Times, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.