A virtual reality law enforcement training program run by a nonprofit focuses on "empathy first" in hopes of building and reinforcing trust between police and the community.
The Institute for Lawful, Safe and Effective Policing (ILSEP) runs the program, which puts officers through scenarios designed to show how implicit bias comes into play in high-stress scenarios.
"The approach we feel is different, there should be a different approach, there shouldn't be always be a force situation but how can we avoid force?" said Greg Wiley, ILSEP’s executive director.
The first police departments will take the training later this month, according to ILSEP, at the REM5 VR Studio in St. Louis Park.
"It's pretty intense when an officer goes into a training situation if the VR is working correctly, the palms get sweaty the heart rate goes up," said Amir Berenjian, owner of REM5 Virtual Reality Laboratory.
The member of law enforcement gives verbal commands to the virtual suspect and the program’s operator reacts to what is said during the encounter leading to different outcomes.
“There's a state initiative to have law enforcement think about how law enforcement could behave differently to make sure those interactions are safer," Wiley said. "If everyone is thinking about how the other person might be feeling, how the other might be stressed, we feel those interactions are going to be safer, that's our goal."
The nonprofit said they are awaiting grant funding to secure money that will allow them to bring the VR training to smaller departments in Greater Minnesota.