Arizona police to get virtual-reality training on use of force; Tempe company VirTra gets contract

A Tempe-based company has been awarded a $2.1 million state contract to provide virtual-reality simulators for use-of-force training to police officers throughout Arizona.

In the coming months, officers will have the chance to virtually immerse themselves in harrowing and potentially deadly scenarios. Encircled by 300 degrees of simulation, trainees will be armed with fake guns and other weapons, and asked to make the kind of split-second decisions that have roiled communities nationwide.

The partnership with VirTra Inc. will make Arizona the first state to introduce the simulator training as a statewide initiative, according to state Sen. Steve Smith, chairman of the Senate Committee on Public Safety.

Smith publicly announced the contract Monday afternoon at VirTra’s Tempe headquarters, with various Arizona law-enforcement and civil-rights leaders looking on. The contract was officially awarded in October.

This year’s Legislature specifically earmarked funding for virtual-reality police training to be awarded through the Arizona Department of Public Safety. The contract will pay for seven simulators across the state, at a price tag of about $300,000 per unit.

The simulators could help bridge the gap between police and communities amid a rash of controversial police shootings across the U.S., Smith told reporters.

“Arizona is going to help lead the way, not only in our state but in our country, in one of the most complex issues facing society today,” Smith said. “I don’t need to tell you what’s been going on the last couple of years, especially with our law enforcement.”

Smith said the simulator is focused on “keeping our brave officers safe,” and “making sure our citizens feel safe, too.”

The VirTra contract drew support from Ann Hart, Maricopa County NAACP branch president.

She said she was pleased that the program encouraged de-escalation training, designed to defuse potentially violent encounters. De-escalation techniques have grown popular in law-enforcement drills nationwide in recent years.

“I believe that this program will save lives,” Hart said. “It is my goal that someday every officer in Arizona will be able to train on these devices.”

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