Law enforcement agencies use virtual reality technology for mental health response training

Published: Mar. 30, 2023 at 6:16 PM CDT
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - Understanding mental health issues on a call has become a big priority for law enforcement agencies in our area. To help, the Mobile Police Department uses these virtual reality headsets to put officers through different training exercises like dealing with people who have developmental disorders like autism or those who may suffer from mental health issues like schizophrenia.

“We were lacking the tools to properly address individuals who are going through a mental health crisis. What it did was allow me to empathize with what they were going through,” said Corporal Nathaniel McCarty with Mobile Police.

Officers get to experience the mental health episode themselves before walking through how to respond to one.

“The morning part of our training is very material intensive and then in the afternoon that virtual reality component brings it all together,” said Dr. Cindy Gipson with AltaPointe Health.

Officers work on different de-escalation techniques which vary based on the type of mental health issue someone is dealing with. The goal is to direct a person to the appropriate treatment method.

“They get to make choices in the virtual reality world and those choices have no real-world consequences so they’re free to feel comfortable making those choices and see how they work out,” said Gipson.

Today MPD along with AltaPointe Health trained officers from the Semmes Police Department. Sergeant Robert Moore says it’s an important step for the new police department.

“It’s not something that can be postponed or delayed so the faster we get our officers in here to learn the training the better,” said Sergeant Robert Moore.

They say it’s already made a difference.

“It gave me some tools to add to helping and would be better beneficial to doing our job and my job,” said Moore.

MPD and AltaPointe have also used this same virtual reality technology to train multiple law enforcement agencies in Baldwin County and they plan to train the Chickasaw Police Department in the near future.