July 1, 2021
Students to try out VR technology used for training police officers
Starting this fall, Wheaton College students will get to use cutting-edge virtual reality training technology for law enforcement through a new collaboration with WRAP Technologies. The collaboration will give students the opportunity to experience law enforcement “use of force” issues in an entirely new way.
WRAP’s VR technology approximates different law enforcement situations, from active shooter scenarios to traffic stops and mental health breakdowns. While wearing the headset, users will experience a specific scenario and will be asked to bring a perpetrator into compliance via verbal commands or different actions along a “use-of-force continuum.”
“In 99% of the situations, no force is necessary because there is compliance,” said David C. Iglesias, J.D., who directs the Wheaton Center for Faith, Politics & Economics and is heading up this collaboration with WRAP, a company based in Tempe, Arizona, working to innovate modern policing. “Problems arise when there is a lack of understanding or defiance of lawful authority, and officers have to decide how to get them to comply without violating the law.”
Depending on the situation, enforcement officers can use verbal commands, non-deadly force like batons or tasers, or deadly force like a firearm. With the virtual training, these objects are simulated. WRAP has also innovated a new product, the Bola Wrap, which could be used along the continuum to safely entangle the suspect without risking death or serious injury. “It has the potential to be disruptive technology,” said Iglesias
“With the virtual headset, students will experience scenarios and they’ll have to decide in a split second what level of force, if any, to use,” Iglesias said.
Iglesias sees this VR opportunity as a great addition to his Civil Rights and Police Action course, a class he created back in 2016. In this course, students study U.S. Supreme and federal appellate court opinions, examine police training manuals, and analyze videos where there are use-of-force issues at play. During the course, students also hear from guest speakers including current and former police officers and attorneys involved in suing police officers. Iglesias, who legally defended Albuquerque Police officers in the early days of his career, also shares anecdotes from his career. A fellow Wheaton professor will lecture on the racial dynamics of police use of force.
This collaboration with WRAP will give students a new level of understanding about these issues, Iglesias said.