Lawmakers pass virtual simulation training for police

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SALT LAKE CITY — Lawmakers passed a bill that would require a statewide training for police officers in a virtual reality setting. The soon-to-be law has the purpose of helping the police officers to be prepared for whatever challenge they may face in the field.

The Legislature closes it session on March 10.
The Legislature closes it session on March 10.

Rep. Francis D. Gibson, R-Mapleton, presented March 8 in the session in front of the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee, and explained that the bill is under the direction of the Attorney General’s Office and that the bill will help officers know “how to handle high-pressure situations, and to learn techniques of de-escalation.”

“This is a training program with some very high-level technology…based on a 360-degree virtual reality machine,” Gibson said. “It places officers in situations that they may encounter on the streets frequently or infrequently, allowing them to interact in virtual reality, make mistakes in virtual reality, and have those mistakes corrected.”

Gibson continued, “It gives officers the opportunity to learn from their mistakes in a situation where they can know how to apply that knowledge and learning out on the street, as well as encounter situations that officers may encounter only once or twice in their careers.”

According to a representative of the Attorney General’s office, this program was conceived quite some time ago, but is just now coming to fruition. Notably, the recent shootings and subsequent protests in Salt Lake City have necessitated programs that will help law enforcement officers in the future.

Under this bill, the Attorney General will be authorized to establish a training center, and provide resources for law enforcement and use of force. He will be authorized to employ a staff for the training center as well.

Tom Ross, Bountiful Chief of Police, attended the committee meeting Tuesday, and came forward to support the bill.

“Many of our agencies have participated in trainings, and the fact that it’s already here and is available, with the attorney general’s involvement gives a legal perspective and is very beneficial to public safety in general,” Ross said. 

Sherry Whitwore, representative of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Utah chapter, was also present to support the bill, and talked about how the bill will affect those with mental illness.

“Our law enforcement officers frequently encounter people living with mental illness and there’s no question that this training will benefit this population, and has a wider scope in benefiting all our citizens and communities,” Whitwore said.

“Our law enforcement officers have an exceptionally dangerous job, and we value the work that they do… They deserve to have the best tools at their disposal,” Whitwore finished.

Ultimately, the purpose of the training is to force the officers to face every plausible scenario in order for them to be more prepared in their encounters on the street.

“The simulation will give the officers the training that they need to prepare them for every situation that they will face,” Gibson said. “We’d like them to learn how to handle those unusual circumstances before they get out on the street, and have to make a decision in nano-seconds.”

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