How Technology Helps Police Force Training

Tech is a great enabler for good when harnessed properly, but it can also be used to perpetuate biases. As police seek to adopt technological solutions, they need to address such concerns.
Ariella  Brown
West Midlands Police - CCTV OperatorWikimedia Commons

“With great power comes great responsibility” was the piece of wisdom conveyed to Peter Parker by his uncle in the 2002 Spiderman movie.

Uncle Ben’s insight lived on far beyond his life, inspiring the direction that his nephew would take as a superhero. In real life, we also have to heed the wisdom of that warning.

Technology now gives people great power that can be used for good and in fighting crime. But there is also some problems we have to be aware of, in not overstepping and abusing that power.

Police forces that are given access to advanced AI and other technological tools have to deal with that great responsibility everyday. While doing what they can to keep people safe, they need to be sure not to become too aggressive.


Adopting technology in training the police do their job has been taken up by the Dutch police in the Netherlands. 

Thinking about tech and responsibility is what inspired them to set up their own booth at the technology conference in Amsterdam this past May.

Referring to their partnerships with Next Web and other stakeholders in developing technology for police departments to use, they call their organization, The Next Police (TNP). 

Barend Frans, Coördinator Team Digitale Opsporing bij Politie Eenheid Amsterdam,  and Felix Nijpels, Strategic Digital Specialist for the Dutch National Police, formulated their concerns on the site under the title, “The Future of Fighting Crime.”

The primary question is: “How will the police adapt and keep adapting to new technology?”

To explore the possibilities, the workshop began with an overview of how the Dutch police force has used technology in the past, how it is using it now, and how it can use it in the future.

 They also explored questions about the ramifications of such technology, considering, “how do we maintain trust and privacy with these new developments?" That’s the great responsibility that comes with great power.

To interest and engage the attendees, as the police seeks to recruit tech talent, the booth featured some fun activities, including the following:

Most Popular
  • VR Crime Scene
  • Shooting Simulator
  • Lock picking
  • ANPR run
  • Fortune wheel
  • Hidden radio frequency
  • Find the target!

You can see reanimating a crime scene demonstrated in this video game, featuring another famous superhero: Batman.

Training with Simulation Tech

Technology is also used to train police in the United States. One of the companies that specializes in that is, ViTra.

VirTra from VirTra on Vimeo.

 ViTra produces Judgmental Use of Force & De-Escalation Scenario Training Simulators that are used by police departments to improve the following key skills in potentially life-threatening, hostile situations:

  • Critical Thinking
  • Communication Skills
  • Decision-Making Under Stress,
  • Reading Body Language and Threat Cues
  • De-Escalation Techniques
  • Public and Officer Safety

It also offers a “a realistic setting using professionally trained actors, cutting edge special effects, and content produced by full time subject matter experts,” to place the police officers in life-like situations.

ViTra was incorporated into police training in Milford, Connecticut several years ago. The NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters quoted Milford Police Chief Keith Mello, saying, “We’d rather find out in here how an officer performs under real life stressors than how they would in the field, because we can fix those problems in this simulator.”

He added that it is particularly useful for analyzing and planning:

 “After they’ve gone through the scenarios, we can then dissect it, recreate it, talk about it. Is there better ways to handle this? What would we do differently?”

Try a little empathy

A different type of training approach is offered by Axon. As you can see from the CEO and founder Rick Smith’s account in the video below, his approach is to use technology to attempt to avert the need for the police to shoot, with empathy training delivered via VR headsets.  

Axon History and Mission from Axon on Vimeo.

The Chicago Police Department recently announced that it was partnering with Axon for the first VR empathy training program. It was not only the first agency to apply Axon’s program to its training for police crisis intervention training but also the first to incorporate Axon’s new autism empathy training.

Those who buy Axon's Officer Safety Plan 7+ receive an Oculus Go training headset loaded with empathy training that encompasses dealing with both autistics and schizophrenics.

Laura Brown, Axon's Sr. Director of Training, said in a statement: "There's no one-size-fits-all strategy for responding to calls for service in the field. The more police officers understand what people are experiencing during a crisis, the more they can adapt their response to effectively de-escalate the situation and protect lives."

Chicago Police Superintendent, Eddie Johnson was quoted explaining the advantage of the flexibility of the technology:

“A group of headsets could be easily packed up and taken to any district or unit throughout the city. Then officers could participate in this training without ever having to leave the particular stations they work in.”

Smart connections and monitoring for police

In addition to the empathy training, Axon offers a whole arsenal of smart tools. As you can see in the dramatization of the video below, the smart connections and AI work to help the police officer get through with a minimum of violence and with a full recording, to guarantee accurate records without having the police officer divert his attention from the people involved, in order to write his report.

Axon Network (EMEA) from Axon on Vimeo.

When the police officer draws his TASER Smart Weapon rather than attempting to subdue the attacker with a baton or lethal gun, Axon’s Signal technology activates the Axon camera that will capture a video of the event.

The video, then, can be captured at where it works along with “additional tools for transcription, redaction, and more.”

Capturing the event as it happens without an interpretation and possible bias inserted by a police officer, is one way to be sure that things happened as they should have and that everything will be accountable, including acts outside legal parameters.

Why bias is a concern for law enforcement

Concern about bias within the police force remains a serious problem. As we saw in Our Brave New World: Why the Advance of AI Raises Ethical Concerns, a number of researchers and organizations have pointed out that using facial recognition technology in the name of stopping crime is proving problematic, due to encoded racial bias.

Articles like Facial Recognition Is Accurate, if You’re a White Guy are based on this finding:  

“The darker the skin, the more errors arise — up to nearly 35 percent for images of darker skinned women, according to a new study that breaks fresh ground by measuring how the technology works on people of different races and gender.”

More recently, in February of this year, MIT Technology Review’s artificial intelligence reporter, Karen Hao, wrote that police across the US are training crime-predicting AIs on falsified data. That indicates that, despite the increasing awareness of biased AI, it was still applied to police training, which perpetuates the problem.

While tech has created some problems in perpetuating biases through algorithms or faulty data, the hope is that, applying greater responsibility in planning how to both develop and apply technology to fighting crime can lead to good outcomes. 

Increasing transparency and accountability are two important components of achieving that end.

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