Axon, a public safety tech company, promises to radically improve crisis response training by incorporating virtual reality into the classroom. In a pilot program, Axon is using video-game technology that allows officers to virtually experience police interactions through the lens of a crisis-involved subject.
Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Institute and developer of the evidence-based Realistic De-escalation Training, finds Axon’s approach compelling. In an interview with ABC’s Good Morning America, Dr. Lewinski praises Axon’s latest offering:
“As long as we are sending law enforcement in to be the front-line responders to those in perceptual, cognitive, mental, or chemically induced crisis, they really need to know how their actions are being perceived by those subjects, . . . This is an important, almost foundational awareness they need. And the [Axon virtual reality training program] is … the next step in police training.”Dr. Bill Lewinski
As Dr. Lewinski notes, police remain the primary response to those in mental health crisis, which, depending on definitions, can mean anywhere from 1% to 15% of the nearly sixty million total law enforcement contacts each year.
Overwhelmingly, police find those living with mental illness to be nonviolent and can resolve most incidents at the scene. However, a small percentage of interactions require officers to manage threats from people unable to clearly, logically, or rationally understand their environment.
The dangerousness and unpredictability of these encounters is evident as at least 1 in 4 fatal police shootings involve a person with severe mental illness; making preparation for these infrequent but highly complex interactions among law enforcement’s top training priorities.
Officers prepared for crisis management will recognize the signs of mental illness and, when circumstances permit, prioritize non-violent responses. To that end, verbal and tactical de-escalation remain the “best practices” of those officers and mental health professionals committed to serving those in mental crisis; while reducing the need for force or sedatives.
Students of the Force Science Realistic De-escalation Training will recall that de-escalation is founded on the willingness and ability to see the interaction through the perspective of the person in crisis. Historically, law enforcement developed this empathy through classroom lectures, written descriptions of mental illness, and repeated interaction with mentally ill and substance-impaired people.
Now, through Axon’s virtual reality technology, officers can quickly develop this foundational empathy by seeing, hearing, and experiencing the perspective of those in mental crisis.
Through their Realistic De-escalation Training, the Force Science Institute continues to prepare law enforcement to respond effectively and compassionately to those experiencing mental health crises. Find a class near you and sign up online.