Immersive reality experience helps train future law enforcement officers

Iowa Lakes Community College criminal justice students now have the use of an advanced virtual...
Iowa Lakes Community College criminal justice students now have the use of an advanced virtual reality simulator to practice real life police situations.(Iowa Lakes Community College)
Published: Sep. 14, 2022 at 9:27 AM CDT
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ESTHERVILLE, Iowa (KTIV) - A new way of practicing officer-based scenarios is being offered to the criminal justice students at Iowa Lakes Community College.

The college has recently acquired the Apex Officer program which offers students a realistic and immersive virtual reality law enforcement training simulator.

“We identified VR simulations as something that would benefit the Criminal Justice program about five years ago, but the technology wasn’t where we wanted it to be. Now, the technology has advanced considerably and we’re very excited to be able to offer the Apex Office program to our students. This technology will allow students to practice and hone their skills in a safe, virtual environment before they ever step into a real-life scenario,” explained Chris Gerstbrein, Criminal Justice Program co-coordinator and professor.

With the Apex Officer program, students enter a virtual world with virtual suspects, virtual tools, and virtual scenarios, including everything from routine traffic stops to active shooter situations, all controlled by the instructor in a safe, controlled virtual environment.

Students wear a backpack computer hooked to a VR headset, headphones, and a tool belt featuring standard tools police officers have in the field, including a pistol, taser, AR-15, pepper spray, and a baton. The equipment then communicates with devices set up around the room’s perimeter.

Once geared up, students are placed in different environments, like parks or bars, with different officer-involved scenarios where the instructor plays the suspect to ensure fluid and realistic real-time responses.

“The instructor has complete control of the experience. We can control the scenario length and the suspect’s actions and words based entirely on what the student does in the interaction. This control is a huge advantage because responding to a mental health crisis or de-escalating a situation can take a long time. Students will learn how their reactions affect different situations with different suspects. This system allows us to introduce principles of crisis intervention and de-escalation that is not possible with other systems,” said Gerstbrein.

The Apex Officer program will allow students to practice realistic scenarios learning how to use the correct language and demeanor to reduce the potential for higher levels of force being used to subdue subjects.