Fife Police use virtual reality to train officers

Since 2019, all law enforcement officers in Washington state have been required to get de-escalation training. The goal is to resolve conflicts without the use of force by using distance, cover and time to manage volatile incidents.  

Now, the Fife Police Department is using a new virtual reality training simulator called Apex Officer to provide realistic training in an effort to achieve that goal.

"We can create different scenarios. It’s response based depending on what the officer responds to. Whoever is in the scene, they can change it up. We have urban environments. We’ve got building environments. We have inside a store, inside a home, so there is just a plethora of things we can do which you couldn’t do in the past with just a static system," said Fife PD officer Al Morales, who has undergone the training. 

"This is immersive. You are in virtual reality. It’s like you are in the scene. You will see officers if there is a staircase, they are actually reaching for a staircase," he said.  

The Fife City Council purchased the system for $60,000. 

"We put in for a grant. We didn’t get it. The city council and the citizens decided to buy it for us anyway, so it’s important to them. I mean, they are just as concerned as every other city is about how their officers treat the public when they interact with them," Morales said. 

Officers wear mockups of their duty pistols and taser and they get dispatched to various calls.

A detective voices the role of the people they contact and responds according to the officer’s dialogue.  

"We can have one with somebody on drugs. We can have one that’s a domestic violence call. We try to de-escalate a situation as much as possible. Time and distance. We’re not in a hurry anymore. We do our best to talk people down. Get them to put down weapons and try to offer them help," Morales said.

When the verbal de-escalation doesn’t work and the suspect pulls a weapon, officers have to react quickly. 

"If they use good dialogue, they can talk somebody down. If they don’t use good dialogue, they could possibly get attacked by the person," said Officer Morales.

As law enforcement agencies around the state compete to attract new officers, Fife PD said they hope those interested in the virtual reality training will contact them for one of their four open positions.