Criminal justice students at Iowa State University will soon have a chance to test their policing skills on a high-tech simulator that features an interactive ten-foot-wide screen.
ISU Police Chief Michael Newton says his officers are also using the simulator to practice a variety of techniques used to diffuse volatile situations and to better respond to behavioral health issues.
“Training like this puts our officers in real-life-type situations without actually being in real life,” Chief Newton says. “They get a chance to practice. They get a chance to make mistakes in a teaching and learning environment.”
ISU officers are put through roleplaying training sessions on the simulator which Newton says are designed to mimic different scenarios they could encounter on campus. “Immediately, you feel like you’re in it. You feel like you’re really there in the situation and you immediately have the physiological response that we do sometimes on our cases,” Newton says. “Our heart rate goes up, what can happen to officers is tunnel vision can set in.”
That sort of response can interfere with decision-making, so Newton says simulator training helps officers recognize how their bodies react and practice techniques that may prevent a stressful situation from worsening. Police officers are often the first responders to a mental health crisis, especially in rural Iowa, but they typically don’t have the resources to get additional training to recognize different disorders or practice de-escalation techniques.
“With the video options, we can run through many more revolutions of training in a really fast time frame,” Newton says. “De-escalation is a huge concern for people in our community, and so the more training we can do on de-escalation, the better off we all are.”
ISU researchers envision offering additional training with the simulator to rural police departments from across Iowa. “I really see this as an opportunity for our entire state,” Newton says. “Iowa State University is an asset for everyone. I know some of the smaller departments have smaller, tighter training budgets. This is just another tool that we can use to put them through real-life situations and hopefully learn and develop a better police officer.”
Researchers plan to assemble a focus group with ISU students from Alpha Phi Sigma, the national criminal justice honors society, to create a curriculum with the simulator for upper-level classes.