New Voinovich Academy initiative offers Appalachian law enforcement training via virtual reality

Published: May 3, 2021 Author: Staff reports

Ohio University’s Voinovich Academy for Excellence in Public Service, a program of Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, is building a new initiative to improve law enforcement safety and increase community trust – with the help of virtual reality.

The Appalachian Law Enforcement Initiative is designed to involve entire communities, bringing together law enforcement officers, community stakeholders and public administrators in a collaboration to reduce the use of force, teach de-escalation techniques and improve law enforcement outcomes for both the community and police.

Distance, small populations, and low budgets often hinder law enforcement officers and communities in the Appalachian region who seek training and development, said John Born, executive-in-residence at the Voinovich School and Scripps College of Communication.

“Trust and safety are equally and critically important to law enforcement, as well as the people being served,” said Born, who has previously served as director of the Ohio Department of Public Safety and colonel of the Ohio State Highway Patrol. “It can be difficult to deliver effective training and information in an area with geographic and resource challenges.”

To overcome such barriers, the initiative plans to use virtual reality in its training. Rather than using the technology in a traditionally tactical sense, the initiative’s goal is to immerse law enforcement in an experience that can change their perspectives, while also creating a structure to engage public policy makers and community leaders. The officers will wear virtual reality headsets to look around and learn from the training environment, providing a more impactful experience.

“Virtual reality is a powerful, low-cost tool that can be a model for the state and nation,” Born said. “It’s an extraordinary opportunity for the Appalachian region to lead.”

The Voinovich School, local law enforcement and Ohio University’s Scripps College of Communication partnered to form the initiative in response to concerns over law enforcement safety, public trust and de-escalation of dangerous situations. Law enforcement leaders from around the Appalachian region are working as an advisory group to assist development of the content for the program, making it as realistic and effective as possible. The initiative ultimately hopes to save lives, as law enforcement officers engage those in crisis differently as a result of their training.

“As we are seeing on a national level, the focus of de-escalation in police training has not been adequately emphasized,” Ohio University Police Department Lt. Tim Ryan, a member of the advisory group, said. “We hope this this initiative can help fill that void.”