The Marin County Sheriff’s Office is deploying virtual reality to get the deputies ready for de-escalation and mental health emergency situations.
“We want any tool that’s going to help us be better,” said Marin County Sheriff Bob Doyle. “I think it’s important for us to provide training to our deputies so that they’re better prepared to handle different situations as they arise.”
The training program is a part of the department’s $1.48 million, five-year contract with Axon Enterprises Inc. that supplies the agency with Taser stun guns and body-worn cameras along with associated software and cloud video storage required for the devices.
Conventionally, the deputies and new recruits undergo a use-of-force simulator that focuses on training them for de-escalating conflicts. It simulates various scenarios such as traffic stops, building alarms, and domestic abuse calls. But the department’s foray into virtual reality is the first of its kind.
An Oculus headset preloaded with several scenarios such as emergencies involving people with conditions ranging from schizophrenia, autism, suicidal ideation, dementia, and hearing impairments are being used for the training. Deputies run through the simulation from both viewpoints, that of an officer and also of a civilian.
The Field Training Officer for the Sheriff’s Office, Sgt. Bradley Kashack said the training helps in understanding the civilian’s emotions and thought process to assist deputies for effective communication in a high-stress situation.
“We understand that this is a VR headset and that real-life situations may be different,” said Kashack. “But what this does is it creates talking points for us to try to get better as a whole department and as each individual deputy.”
The training has been facilitated for about 20 deputies so far. It won’t be a mandatory thing but will be incorporated into the agency’s crisis intervention training with the county’s behavioral health branch of the Marin County Department of Health and Human Services.
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