July 14, 2021

Princeton Police Department Adopts New Virtual Reality Training Program

CUTTING-EDGE TRAINING AT PPD: The Princeton Police Department will be using a virtual training platform with realistic simulated scenarios to help hone their de-escalation, conflict resolution, and community policing techniques. (Photo courtesy of Princeton Police Department)

By Donald Gilpin

In taking a leading role in meeting the increasing challenges of policing in the 21st century, the Princeton Police Department (PPD) has recently adopted a virtual training platform, which will deliver the latest simulator training technology to local police officers.

The WRAP Reality program, which the PPD is currently in the process of implementing, uses training scenarios and innovative technology to fully immerse the officers in realistic scenarios with a focus on de-escalation, conflict resolution, reduction in use of force, and principles of community

“We are the first in the state to utilize this type of training,” said PPD Chief Christopher Morgan. “Virtual reality allows us to take information taught in a classroom setting to our officers and immerse them into scenarios that they may encounter in real life and to evaluate their skills. Also, it allows the officers to better understand their skill sets and become more comfortable in many types of situations.”

He continued, “It is very difficult in police training to go from a classroom setting to practical application, and WRAP Reality allows us to do so over and over with all of our officers in a timely and efficient manner. We are always striving to have the best training in place for our officers, and adding virtual reality is an important step toward that goal. It allows us to immerse our  officers into dangerous and critical decision-making situations while controlling the outcome, and it affords us the opportunity to hone the de-escalation skills our officers need to successfully and safely defuse a range of critical incidents.”

WRAP President and CEO Tom Smith described the WRAP Reality program as an innovative step forward in officer training. “We’re interested in changing the way law enforcement does business, trying to reduce force, prevent it from being used,” he said.  “If you look at law enforcement in general, they are not stalwarts of change. They are not typically on the front edge of technology.”

Smith pointed out that typical police training procedures have not changed much in the past 50 years, with trainees attending a police academy once or twice a year. “We’re trying to get them to use WRAP Reality a couple of times a week. It’s much more immersive, much more interactive and effective from a cost point of view. It really makes an impact.”

He added, “You’re looking at a cost-effective approach. Through virtual reality we can do something in about 30 minutes that would take about two hours in the classroom. It will save a lot of man hours, labor hours, and provide better training for police a couple of times a week instead of a couple of times a year.”

WRAP and the PPD are excited to be collaborating on this initiative, as they work to implement the WRAP Reality program in Princeton. In each training session the trainee puts on the headset containing one of 35 different scenarios developed so far. The instructor, an experienced local police officer, runs the trainee through the scenario, examining such issues as: Is the officer responding appropriately to the situation? Is the officer too quick to go to their weapon? Is the officer looking at the total situation? What other options could the officer  employ?

“We’ve built the scenarios as a canvas for instructors,” said Smith. “They can use our scenarios in a variety of ways, and they can record the session and watch it afterwards. We’ve created the scenarios, but local instructors use them as the medium for training the officers and deciding how that training gets integrated by Chief Morgan and the command staff.”

Morgan emphasized the potential value of the new training program. “Princeton Police Department prides itself on being at the forefront of progress in policing, and this partnership and training is another example,” he said. “We’re committed to providing the best training to our officers and the best possible service to our community, and this is another step towards achieving those goals.”