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'Felt like a real-life situation': Washington County deputies train in the use of force with virtual reality

"It exposes them to the potential use of force scenarios; it helps them evaluate their knowledge of use of force law," Lt. Durden says.

SANDERSVILLE, Ga. — The Washington County Sheriff's Office is using a new system to train deputies on whether to use force in different situations. The training puts deputies in scenarios they may have never experienced to test their knowledge of the law and use-of-force guidelines.

Officers can train on more than 100 scenarios, from the most peaceful to the most deadly. Then, you get a pistol and taser and use them to react in real-time to the screen.

Lt. Derick Durden is Washington County's Professional Standards and Training officer. He says this $42,000 system-- VirTra-- comes with a laptop, screen, and unique cameras that track your movement. 

"It exposes them to the potential use of force scenarios; it helps them evaluate their knowledge of the use of force law. It gives that student officer the opportunity to evaluate their decision-making,” Durden explains.

He says most officers will not face these situations. However, if it does– he says officers will more than likely have no time at the moment to think of a solution, especially if it’s their first time experiencing it. 

"If you don't have confidence going into an encounter like this, you're going to more than likely overreact. Especially if you're not confident in what the law says, so, we're putting them in these situations ahead of time, so if it does happen that training will kick in, they'll know how to react responsibly,” Durden says. 

"Well, it definitely felt like a real-life situation because those are things that can happen,” Amy Watson says.

 Amy Watson, a jail administrator, has been with the sheriff's office for over a year. She says she's never had to use her weapons in an excessive force situation.

"It's like going through a tunnel– a dark tunnel. You don't know where you're going or what you're going to face when you get there, so it's definitely difficult whether I was making the right decision, or what to do next, or what the perpetrator was going to do to me,” she explains. 

Watson says she knows law enforcement officers have a big responsibility to protect people and themselves.

"Training is important so that we know that we're following the law and the decisions that we make are justified and backed up by law," she said. 

Washington County Sheriff Joel Cochran says after a 2017 incident that left a man dead from being tased by deputies, they've put more emphasis on training in dealing with mentally ill individuals. Like 40-hour crisis intervention classes. He says this use of force class will also help deal with uncertain scenarios.


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