Sheriff’s training goes virtual

Published 11:12 pm Tuesday, April 18, 2023

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By Mike Barnhardt

Enterprise Record

Do you remember your favorite song from high school?

Do you remember ME=Y2-Y1 from high school algebra class?

Most people answer yes for the first one, and give a bewildered look for the second.

And it’s that principle the Davie Sheriff’s Office is using to train it’s officers, and hopefully, to save lives.

Apex Officer, a virtual training experience, is being used by the department, one of the first in the state to do so. So far, training has gone well.

“It’s fun, so it helps you to remember things,” said Capt. Wes Martin, who is often the voice officers hear while being trained.

Officers wear earphones and a mask, and through virtual reality, are taken to situations they may face on the street, complete with buildings, vehicles and people. The voice they hear comes from the trainer, who can change what he says based on the officer’s reaction.

Most of the training has to do with de-escalating a situation, said Chief Deputy Brian Jacobs.

Officers trained on the Apex system  can take those being trained to different scenarios they may face on the street.

“All officers and some staff can use this for crisis intervention training,” Jacobs said. “They can go through this after classroom training on how to successfully talk someone down from a crisis situation.”

Officers can be taught how to recognize a mentally ill person from one with criminal intentions, and worked through their reactions.

The program is also used for firearms training. They know how long it takes someone to reach an officer if they’re trying to do harm, and the officer has to react correctly within that few second time frame.

“They (trainers) can talk to them, give advice or change the situation,” Jacobs said.

The department can place certain items in a room that would give a clue to the situation, and see if the officer notices and responds correctly.

“There’s multiple variations we can use,” said Capt. Gary Zickmund. Available scenarios include traffic stops, a school, hospital, grocery store, in homes, apartments or clubs. “We can take what they learned in the classroom and put it into action.”

“So far, officers have really taken to participating in this,” Jacobs said, adding the cost was provided by a grant obtained through NC Sen. Steve Jarvis.

Other law enforcement agencies have shown interest since Davie was among the first to put it into action in January. It will be used to help train EMTs and telecommunicators, firefighters and first responders.

One of the advantages, Zickmund said, is that the operation can be packed for travel and set up within 30 minutes.