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Augmented Reality Adds Depth to Police Communication Training

Watchword takes de-escalation skills to a measurable level with a focus on officer safety.

Law enforcement officers across the country are being presented with an increase in the use of de-escalation training, either through the results of an unfortunate event or through a proactive administration giving its officers additional skills to deal with unpredictable outcomes.

De-escalation has become a well-known police reform initiative. While what de-escalation means is varied, its basic methods are tied to communication, creating distance, creating time, using cover, and using additional resources. All of these are intended to reduce use of force incidents.

It is a common concern that de-escalation restricts an officer’s use of force and places them in greater danger. A 2020 study done by researchers from Arizona State University with police officers from the Tempe (AZ) Police Department found that when de-escalation training is grounded in safety, health, and wellness curriculum, officers were less likely to us a condescending tone, more likely to develop a rapport, less likely to fail to transfer control to another officer, less likely to use charged body language, and more likely to resolve the encounter informally.

The heightened awareness of de-escalation alone does not preclude police officers from using deadly force, when necessary, especially when the safety of police officers and civilians is at an immediate risk. Instead, training that includes de-escalation gives police officers a tool to use that can result in non-traumatic outcomes especially in a time when departments are under great scrutiny about their training and interactions with the public.

De-escalation training is not limited to dealing with a confrontational person. Its lessons also extend into communication training with persons experiencing a mental health crisis. Police officers have been the default first responders to people suffering from a mental health crisis and it has only been in recent years that this first responder response has begun to shift to a counselor-type response. Many municipalities and departments have changed their response to such calls to include EMS personnel and social workers or individuals trained and certified in mental health issues.

This new response also involves new approaches and training on communication.  Police officers now need to understand the differences between crisis communication and conflict communication and what type of calls need to be used. De-escalation training leads officers in how to recognize if the situation is a crisis moment focused on the person’s decision to either comply or resist, or if it is a communication moment focused on finding a solution to a person’ problem.

Training is the foundation of police operations. Evidence-based and effective training is necessary for new officers before assuming duty, and continuous professional training is necessary to maintain the perishable skills LEOs need for the job. Especially important are the decision-making and critical thinking skills officers need when responding to individuals in crisis.

Communication skills are challenging, and so is the training. From curriculum designed for the academy to training adapted from street experience, police officers face new issues in their continuing education based on current events in society. As police departments react and adapt to challenges and issues in training, the very act of training itself is evolving. Many departments have been using new means of training to stay on top of new techniques. Augmented reality training is one such way police officers can train on de-escalation and communication.

Watchword is an augmented reality training that is hands-on with detailed, accurate simulations emulating real buildings and real scenarios. Officers can train in the station or at another location with minimal equipment and multiple, customizable scenarios. Watchword develops muscle memory, ensuring police officers accurately understand scenarios and outcomes.

With Watchword officers can practice their observation and communication skills giving their full attention to the simulation and increase their ability to de-escalate a potentially violent situation or select the appropriate use of force.  Recording and playback of each simulation gives officers the instant feedback needed for correction or affirmation of actions taken, leading to greater chances of successful outcomes when faced with these challenging situations on the street.