Council Members Get Hands-On Look at Virtual Reality System

Administrator Evans Takes a Stance


As a police officer, how do you deal with a drunk with a knife or an angered husband armed with a pistol or just someone in a public setting who’s having a mental health crisis?  This is an event that requires some preparation and a virtual reality system acquired by the City of Lamar for the police department was displayed for several city council members during their April 17th work session.

Chief Miller Develops the Action Scene

“The system is called Apex Officer,” said Lamar Police Chief, Kyle Miller, who converted the city council chambers into an open arena to show the council how the system works.  “De-escalation is a priority for the department as we want to reduce a heated emotional event into one where it can be resolved without any harm,” he explained. The chief added that the department is seeing more calls for mental health issues most recently.

Councilman Manuel Tamez is on the Ready Line

Anyone who has tried an Oculus-type reality game is acquainted with most of the gear which involves a visor-headpiece, sometimes a handheld weapon or a wand-like sword and once donned, the press of a button puts the wearer into any number of situations.  Some of them can be extremely lifelike and that’s what the Apex system wants to produce.  A large tv screen allows the audience to view the same thing the officer sees through their visor helmet and the vision moves with each real-time step or turn the participant takes.

Each of the council members as well as this reporter, got a chance to try their hand in several scenarios.  The introductory program puts you into a shooting gallery, using a pistol to hit stationary or moving targets.  One scenario, explained Chief Miller, uses the ’21 foot rule’ which police departments recognize as the three-second response time given when someone comes at you from 21 feet away.  The suddenness offers a new and different perspective to the user.

The system provides advanced degrees of difficulty for scenarios which officers are likely to encounter, not all of which involves shooting.  Chief Miller controls the levels and voices the role of a mentally challenged individual in a grocery store or a drunken person in a hotel corridor who can’t remember his room number.  More action-oriented scenes portray a domestic violence situation or a shooter in a school or shopping mall.  Once the action is over, the computer provides information that details how many shots were fired, how many found their target, whether shots were too high, slow/fast response times and a host of other figures which allow a teaching program.  A dialogue between officer and subject also provides a means by which a situation can be de-escalated into a peaceful solution.

Sometimes you stop and think about consequences when an officer accidently shoots a bystander running past them or gets knifed or shot themselves because of a slow reaction time when they didn’t read the situation correctly and a person was allowed to get to close.

City Administrator, Rob Evans, said the system was paid for by a POST grant, about $50,000 and Chief Miller said Lamar officers will go through a periodic training process, usually in a group when the system is up and running.  “Part of the grant process states we have to show our usage in order to remain eligible for future grants of this nature,” Miller said.

He added, the program’s lifelike situations can get to you, “We had one officer go through a program while wearing a fitbit watch and just afterwards, his heartrate had gone up to just over 100 beats a minute.”
By Russ Baldwin

Filed Under: City of LamarEducationFeaturedHealthLaw EnforcementPublic Safety


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