Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star: Virtual reality training simulator coming to Spotsylvania law enforcement academy

FREDERICKSBURG FREE LANCE-STAR, JAMES BARON

Thanks to a local public outreach initiative led by Rep. Abigail Spanberger, a virtual-reality police training simulator will soon be part of the Rappahannock Regional Criminal Justice Academy’s curriculum.

“This is going to be new, state-of-the-art,” said Mike Harvey, executive director of the academy. “Nobody in our region has this yet.”

Last spring, the U.S. House of Representatives allowed members of Congress to submit Community Project Funding requests for the next fiscal year for consideration. Soon after the announcement, Spanberger’s office put out a call on social media seeking input from community leaders in all 10 counties of the 7th Congressional District.

“I went to their informational meeting and Spanberger said they were trying to get award funding for each one of the municipalities that she represents,” Harvey said. “I put together a proposal.”

After President Joe Biden signed the federal omnibus spending bill late last month, Spanberger announced close to $7 million had been secured for several local projects.

“Spanberger has been very responsive,” Harvey said. “She’s been down here to the academy for two or three tours.”

Harvey said he plans to purchase the Pro Training Simulator made by Apex Officer, a Nevada company. Harvey said the virtual-reality training simulator is a significant upgrade from traditional 180-degree police simulators, where a training scenario is projected onto screens with an instructor seated nearby. In those simulators, Harvey said the training is good, but the system has its limitations.

“It’s very static,” Harvey said. “There are only certain things that the system is going to respond back to, because it’s already canned, it’s programmed.”

In the new simulator, Harvey said trainees will wear VR goggles with audio to become immersed in a realistic virtual environment that has endless possibilities, including real-time interactions with motorists on the street.

“The avatar on the traffic stop is the instructor responding for the avatar,” Harvey said. “So it can really get into a lot of de-escalation and how do we talk to people, why do we talk to people this way.”

Harvey said he believes good communications skills between officers and the public are important and said the new VR simulator will greatly enhance the learning experience for all junior officers before they graduate and begin working in the field.

“We can do the tactical training, the firearms training, we can do defensive tactics training, but until they’re really able to put those skills into effect using their communications skills, it doesn’t mean much.” Harvey said.

Since 1978, the Rappahannock Regional Criminal Justice Academy in Spotsylvania County has trained an average of 120 entry-level law enforcement officers each year, along with an equal number of corrections officers. The academy supports 2,200 officers across the region who return to the academy on a regular basis for continuing education courses or other training throughout the year.

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