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VR Enhancing Law Enforcement Preparedness in the U.S.

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The collaboration between Ohio University’s Scripps College of Communication McClure School of Emerging Communication Technologies, Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Service, Athens Police Department, Ohio University Police Department, and Athens County Sheriff’s Office, along with the Columbus Division of Police, has resulted in a Cine-VR training programme for law enforcement officers in Appalachia.

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This initiative, developed in partnership with the Voinovich Academy for Excellence in Public Service and the Game Research and Immersive Design (GRID) Lab OHIO 360 Project, represents a significant leap in training methodologies, leveraging immersive virtual reality (VR) technology to enhance the preparedness and effectiveness of officers.

The Cine-VR training series provides a near-realistic experience for officers, allowing them to engage in and respond to high-stress scenarios in a controlled, virtual environment. David Malawista, a reserve commander with the Athens Police Department and a clinical and forensic psychologist, underlined the programme’s immersive nature, stating, “It is as close to actually being in one of these kinds of scenarios as you are ever going to get.” This immersive quality is critical, as it enables officers to experience and react to situations as if they were happening in real life, which is far more impactful than traditional 2D screen training or reading scenarios from a book.

The VR training is designed to complement the tactical and kinetic exercises offered by the Academy. The objective is to teach officers to read emotional cues and states, improving their crisis-management techniques and de-escalation skills. This focus on emotional intelligence is a crucial component of modern law enforcement training, aiming to reduce the likelihood of escalations and improve interactions with the public.

Tracy Plouck, dean of the Voinovich School of Leadership & Public Service, highlighted the innovative approach of the Cine-VR training in enhancing the training experience for both veteran and rookie officers. She noted that this method provides critical lessons and perspectives for preventing adverse outcomes. This innovation exemplifies how Ohio University positively impacts the state by integrating cutting-edge technology into public service training.

National studies have demonstrated the efficacy of “soft skill” training through Cine-VR, which improves learning retention and confidence in applying learned skills. Eric Williams, lead writer and McClure School Professor pointed out that Cine-VR training creates memories that feel real to participants, making the learning experience more impactful. “Imagine the impact on a person if they remembered movies as if they were real life. That’s what we see happening with Cine-VR,” he said. This type of immersive learning results in a more vivid and lasting recall of training scenarios, which is crucial for practical law enforcement training.

The training programme also includes comprehensive instructional materials to support the immersive scenarios. These materials are integrated into over two dozen Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy (OPOTA) courses, with state-mandated officer training hours. The OPOTA has invested in 160 VR headsets, preloaded with training scenarios, to be distributed statewide. This investment underscores the commitment to providing officers across Ohio with high-quality, immersive training experiences.

One unique aspect of Cine-VR training is using graphics to illustrate emotional states during scenarios, providing officers with visual cues to understand better and interpret the emotions of individuals in crises. For example, in a particularly poignant scenario, a young woman is depicted sitting on a 40-foot tower, contemplating suicide. As she interacts with the officer, colour-coded graphics appear on the screen, labelling emotions such as guilt, sadness, or hope. These visual aids help officers develop a more profound emotional intelligence, enhancing their ability to de-escalate tense situations effectively.

Ohio University’s Cine-VR training programme represents a significant advancement in law enforcement training. It uses VR technology to provide immersive, realistic experiences that enhance officers’ skills in crisis management, emotional intelligence, and de-escalation. This innovative approach is poised to impact the quality of law enforcement training in Ohio substantially and beyond, demonstrating the powerful potential of digital technology in public service education.


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