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Virtual Reality: Training Officers for Domestic Violence Calls

By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice

One of the most challenging calls for police officers involve domestic violence. These calls often involve a great deal of emotions from family members and represent a significant risk to officer safety. Domestic violence calls also require keen observation skills to identify the primary aggressor and any injuries that victims may have.

Domestic violence victims often do not report their injuries for several reasons, which include the fear of reprisal from an assailant. Patrol officers have an important responsibility in looking for indicators of defensive wounds, signs of emotional abuse that may lead the victim into acute danger when the officer leaves the scene and other observations needed in their investigation. These observations generally become better over time, as an officer gains experience in dealing with domestic violence calls.

New Officers Need to Use Up-to-Date Training Tools, Which Include Virtual Reality

As technology evolves in our society, training for new police officers should utilize the most advanced, robust training tools available to prepare those officers for situations they’ll face in the field. Since domestic violence calls are one of the most common and dynamic emergencies to which officers respond, adequate training must be provided in the police academy.

Virtual reality is one important tool that can be utilized to help prepare new officers in the police academy to respond to domestic violence calls. Virtual reality training is effective because it immerses the trainee inside a domestic violence scenario, which helps new officers in many ways. For instance, new officers can better understand the emotions that exist between family members involved in a domestic disturbance, will recognize how defensive wounds occur, and will gain experience in domestic violence investigations.

[Related: The Use of Facial Recognition Technology by Law Enforcement]

Virtual reality training involving scenarios where academy attendees respond to a domestic violence incident in progress is ideal, since the officers are within the safe environment of a police academy. In addition to observing how defensive wounds commonly occur, new officers can experience when emotional abuse occurs between abuser and victim.

Once they graduate the academy and are working in the field, virtual reality training enables officers to more quickly recognize the signs of physical and emotional abuse. Different scenarios can represent different forms of domestic violence and what occurs in the home before the officer arrives on scene, which build an officer’s investigative skills.

Northern Ireland Is Already Using Virtual Reality to Help Others Understand Domestic Abuse Victims

Virtual reality training involving domestic violence already exists in Northern Ireland. According to the BBC, filmmaker Lucy Baxter and Future Screens NI director Professor Paul Moore created a virtual reality domestic abuse film involving live action and real actors.

In this film, the victim is not seen; the user of the virtual headset becomes the domestic violence victim in a fight that occurs after a dinner party. The user feels the victim’s panic, dread and other emotions as her voice is heard through earphones. This virtual reality training is currently being used in healthcare settings, and the creators hope it will be also be adapted for the criminal justice system.

Understanding Domestic Violence from a Victim’s Point of View Is Valuable for First Responders

For first responders in hospitals and law enforcement, virtual reality training can be effective because it displays abuse from the perspective of the victim. With this type of training, first responders gain a deeper understanding of how domestic violence occurs, which in turn increase their ability to recognize it and hold accusers accountable for their actions.

[Related: Seizing Digital Evidence: Best Practices for Police Officers]

To prevent further victim injuries or even deaths, it is important that funds are made available for this training. Training budgets and other funding sources should be explored to provide virtual reality training for police officers.

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski is an associate professor in the School of Security and Global Studies. He has over 22 years’ experience in the field of homeland security and law enforcement. Jarrod has engaged in speaking engagements in the United States, Europe, and Central America on the topic of human trafficking, counter terrorism, police responses to domestic terrorism, and police stress management. For more information, please review

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