The Voinovich Academy for Excellence in Public Service at Ohio University is developing a novel method that uses virtual reality to improve law enforcement safety and increase community trust.
Called the Appalachian Law Enforcement Initiative, the system is designed to bring together entire communities with law enforcement officers, community stakeholders, and public administrators in a collaboration to minimize the use of force, impart de-escalation techniques, and enhance law enforcement outcomes for both the community and police.
John Born, executive-in-residence at the Voinovich School and Scripps College of Communication, explained that distance, small populations, and low budgets are significant hurdles preventing law enforcement officers and communities in the Appalachian region from seeking training and development.
“Trust and safety are equally and critically important to law enforcement, as well as the people being served,” stated Born, who has previously served as director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety and colonel of the Ohio State Highway Patrol. “It can be difficult to deliver effective training and information in an area with geographic and resource challenges.”
The initiative plans to deploy virtual reality to overcome these barriers. The objective is to use the technology to immerse law enforcement in an experience that can change their perspectives instead of conventional tactical training. It also aims to create a structure to engage public policymakers and community leaders in the process.
“Virtual reality is a powerful, low-cost tool that can be a model for the state and nation,” Born said. “It’s an extraordinary opportunity for the Appalachian region to lead.”
Law enforcement leaders from around the Appalachian region are contributing as an advisory group to further develop the program’s content. The initiative ultimately hopes to save lives, as law enforcement officers engage those in crisis differently due to their training.
“As we are seeing on a national level, the focus of de-escalation in police training has not been adequately emphasized,” said Ohio University Police Department Lt. Tim Ryan, a member of the advisory group. “We hope that this initiative can help fill that void.”
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