Virtual reality is also providing new opportunities in police training. In the Shotpros project, psychology-based training scenarios are being developed in order to improve decision-making and action-taking behaviours while under stress. The aim is to avoid violence and collateral damage in high-risk situations.
Firearms attacks, rampages, terrorist attacks – new threat and risk scenarios pose new challenges for the European police. There has been a massive increase in the number of incidents in which police officers are deployed as first responders in threatening situations. First responders are faced with the challenge of assessing the situation accurately and deciding how to proceed. The success of the operation and its potential impact and consequences depend on these strategic decisions.
Virtual reality innovation factor
Traditional training focuses on aspects such as being able to run fast and to use weapons skillfully. However, stress management and strategy are called for first and foremost in high-risk situations. Stress limits perception and thus the ability to make the right decisions and act accordingly. In the Horizon 2020 Shotpros research project, innovative virtual stress training scenarios are now being created which would otherwise be impossible for security reasons. Thirteen project partners from academia and industry are working together with leading police authorities in this multidisciplinary team. The project coordinator is the Viennese user-centred design consultants Usecon.
Project partner Raôul Oudejans
Among the research partners, is also the team from the Center for Technology Experience at the Austrian Institute for Technology (AIT). Its task is to examine the triggers, management and regulation of stress and emotions within virtual realities – and how they are measured. AIT project team member Sebastian Egger-Lampl explains that the training principles are based on psychological research dealing with decision-making and its underlying influences. Project partners involved in this part are the experts led by Raôul Oudejans, associate professor at the Department of Human Movement Sciences, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and at the Faculty of Sports and Nutrition, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. They also provide expertise in the training to help improve decision-making under stress.
Making the right decisions
The training should lead to better and more sound decisions with regards to law and ethics. Police officers are trained in the ability to maintain an overview in threatening situations, to minimize the use of force and to avoid casualties and collateral damage such as panic and escalation.
“Typically, under stress, very often a tunnel effect happens, which results in not even being able to see, much less process, everything that is going on.” Sebastian Egger-Lampl explains.
The project focuses on the design of a validated human factor model. In this study, the influence of psychological human factors on context-specific decisions and actions of police officers in high-risk situations are to be examined first. This model is intended to provide researchers with a deeper understanding of decision-making processes as well as provide the basis for the development of a future training program.
The training material is then created based on these findings. These consist of:
- software with training scenarios in virtual reality;
- a training plan that combines real training with virtual reality training;
- project outcomes, which will be circulated as best practice in a Europe-wide virtual reality training network.
The stress factors in the program can be altered to allow different settings. The training takes place with headsets and under the supervision of a trainer who controls the virtual reality environment and oversees the trainees. The trainees practice in teams of two, as is also the case in the actual deployment of police patrols.
A hypothetical scenario would be a phone call about a loud domestic dispute in an apartment where threats are heard. The situation on site is quite different: there are several men in the apartment who are attacking each other with various items. It is the trainees’ task to first assess the situation in the best conceivable way and gather all available information in order to then make the most appropriate decision. The virtual reality environment makes it possible to gradually escalate the scenes so as to ensure that the trainee reaches a certain stress level, Egger-Lampl explains.
Shotpros is funded by the European Union to the tune of five million euros. The project duration is five years. The establishment of a European network of various police and security authorities is intended to facilitate exchange and knowledge transfer in the field of virtual worlds within the police sector. The long-term success of the project will be ensured by involving police authorities and relevant stakeholders.