New London Police using virtual reality system to de-escalate conflict
New London ― Police officers Daquan Stuckey and Christina Nocito responded to a domestic assault call Monday night.
Except it was a simulation.
Wearing an Oculus-like headset and a computer unit on her back, Nocito was participating in the simulation as part of de-escalation training. It was her first time using the equipment.
“I had to get used to what I was seeing,” Nocito said. “I kept wanting to go down the stairs.”
Using a $70,000 federal Department of Justice grant, the police department was the first in the state to acquire the APEX Officer virtual reality simulator. Members of the community got a virtual look at what it meant to be a police officer Monday with a public demonstration of the system.
Sgt. Matt Cassiere on Monday led a presentation before the demonstration and explained the system’s significance.
Originally priced at $95,868, Cassiere said the department acquired the system at $62,500 with some upgrades and a discount.
He said the system will be used for de-escalation training, use of force training and community outreach. Cassiere explained that de-escalation using non-violent strategies and techniques are designed to decrease the intensity of a situation and getting “voluntary compliance” from someone.
He added that the system will help the officers adhere to the state Police Accountability Bill by making sure “the peace officer... engaged in reasonable de-escalation measures prior to using deadly physical force.”
Chief of Police Brian Wright said regardless of rank, every police officer has the responsibility to intervene when another officer steps out of line.
Cassiere said the system is not a game and the ultimate goal is to use it for educational purposes and training.
Officer Dave Diogo controlled the simulation from a separate room while the officers in the simulation stood in the community room where sensors were located. Spectators could watch what the officers were seeing on a screen but could not hear what was being said to them. Through a headset, Diogo told them what they were encountering and then played the role of the people they encountered.
Two safety officers stood in the room with the officers in the simulation to make sure they did not run into anything.
Two members of the community got to test out the system and respond to a suspicious person call in an abandoned factory. The situation was one where use of force was ultimately needed.
Resident Samantha Ide took part in it and said de-escalation is the hardest to train for and that’s why the immersive experience is so important.
Cassiere said the department has had the system for about five months and did its first training in September. He said the plan is to do additional training and hopefully use it on a monthly basis, opening de-escalation classes to other police departments.
During Monday’s session some residents asked Chief of Police Brian Wright what officers should do when they feel another officer uses physical force that is not justified.
Wright said regardless of rank, every police officer has the responsibility to intervene when another officer steps out of line. In addition, the department investigates all incidents in which officers use force.