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Johnson County building VR-classroom to train deputies

$3 million training facility expected to open this summer
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Posted at 4:32 PM, Feb 23, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-23 16:36:30-05

FRANKLIN — The Johnson County Sheriff's Office is ditching the desks and turning an old classroom into a virtual reality training facility.

The county is spending about $3 million to expand and renovate its current training center and install VR equipment that simulates the kind of situations a law enforcement officer typically experiences in real life, Chief Deputy Andrew Barnhart said.

"They put sensors in the four corners of the room and you can actually physically walk around a scene just as you would in the real world," Barnhart said. "Being able to physically move around a space is really important, especially when you're talking about things like traffic stop training."

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The Johnson County Sheriff's Office is building a virtual reality training center in Franklin. This image was provided by InVeris, one of several companies that make VR equipment for law enforcement.

This technology has been used by other police departments and the military.

Barnhart said it's a little like a video game. Deputies will put on a VR headset and move through simulated traffic stops, domestic disputes and other situations.

The VR training requires users to make split-second decisions. They must decide if a virtual reality character is a threat, victim or a bystander. They have to decide when to use words and when to use force.

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The Johnson County Sheriff's Office is building a virtual reality training center in Franklin. This image was provided by InVeris, one of several companies that make VR equipment for law enforcement.

Instructors can control the VR environment in real time.

"The flexibility of virtual reality is what's really powerful about the system," Barnhart said.

"There's millions of scenarios you can encounter out there. And so this just really widens that net and makes sure that we're exposing all of our officers to the best and most realistic training that we possibly can."

Barnhart said county officials are still deciding between several different vendors that make virtual reality training systems.

They'll make their choice soon, he said. The sheriff's office hopes to have the new classroom up and running by this summer.

Contact WRTV reporter Vic Ryckaert at victor.ryckaert@wrtv.com or on X/Twitter: @vicryc.