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Pulaski County Sheriff unveils new virtual reality training simulator

Pulaski County Sheriff's Deputy Josh Dunn demonstrates the Apex Officer virtual reality training simulator at the sheriff's office headquarters in Little Rock.
Daniel Breen
Pulaski County Sheriff's Deputy Josh Dunn demonstrates the Apex Officer virtual training simulator at the sheriff's office in Little Rock.

New deputies with the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office will gain training experience through a new virtual reality simulator. The system, called Apex Officer, allows officers to interact with virtual suspects in a variety of settings and situations from de-escalation to responding to mass shootings.

In a news conference Tuesday, Sheriff Eric Higgins said the system allows for more flexibility in training deputies.

“We don't have to go to specific buildings, we can set the scenario up here at the facility," Higgins said. "We can also deal with different variables that we’re dealing with, from someone who may be suffering from dementia or mental illness, or a variety of things we can utilize.”

Those using the system wear a VR headset and receive input from a trainer communicating as both a dispatcher and a suspect. The program puts trainees in a variety of settings, such as shopping malls, schools and neighborhoods, with both suspects and trainees using various objects and weapons.

The simulator uses virtual reality to simulate different interactions with suspects, which are controlled by a trainer. Officers using the system interact with suspects, which are voiced by the trainer, and can use various simulated weapons from rifles to pepper spray.

Higgins says the department draws on real-life experiences for use in training scenarios.

“The training staff have experience in actually doing the job," Higgins said. "We monitor things that go on in this country, whether its different shooting incidents or what have you. We monitor those, we pull videos down and we talk about those and how can we implement those situations in our training here.”

He says other law enforcement agencies in the region will be able to train officers using the simulator. All new deputies with the sheriff’s office will use the system for training. The simulator cost the sheriff’s office $150,000 and is the first of its kind in use by a law enforcement agency in Arkansas.

Daniel Breen is News Director of Little Rock Public Radio.