Tulare County deputies gaining skills through virtual reality

TULARE COUNTY, California - Tulare County sheriff's deputies are now patrolling the virtual world. A new program is allowing officers to prepare for unexpected situations in the comfort of their own department.

The Tulare County Sheriff's Office has a goal to become the most technologically advanced department in the nation. 

The assistant sheriff says they are the only department that they know of that have utilized both a driving and use of force simulator in the same room. Ultimately it allows the officers to respond quicker and safer in those life and death situations. 

Tulare County sheriffs deputies chasing a suspect through busy streets. Checking every direction and communicating with the other deputies to catch the bad guy. The officers treating it as if the chase were the real thing, but it is actually happening in the virtual world of their new high tech driving simulators.

"Our deputies drive every day but they don't drive in emergency conditions every day, here we can simulate those emergency situations if we need to," said assistant sheriff Keith Douglass.

While deputies are driving they face a constant test--instructors behind the drivers are throwing different weather patterns or pedestrians in their way.

"I would much rather have someone crash twenty times on the simulator than once on the street," said Douglass. 

The instructors will also brief them before, so the officer knows the goal of the exercise.

"The suspects vehicle they left in was a red viper when you see the red viper engage and do your law enforcement responsibility."

When deputies pull over a suspect they stop, unbuckle, then make their way across the room to the use of force simulator where they will communicate with a suspect and deescalate a situation.

The deputies communicate with a suspect and it can end in different outcomes, depending on how deputies work to deescalate the situation. And adding new tricks through the use of technology-- is a part of Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux's vision to become the most technologically advanced department in the nation.

"For law enforcement if we are not advancing at those levels we are going to be behind the criminal element and they are good at what they do," stated  sheriff Mike Boudreaux.

Through looking at training and tactics, Boudreaux worked to implement the simulators through budget savings.

"I think it makes a direct impact immediately."

Boudreaux says it is about safety, since implementing the driving simulators-- he says officer accidents are less damaging and there are fewer of them.

"The reactionary time for the officers based on the simulators has increase in that we are showing the level of severity in the accidents are far less then in times passed," stated sheriff Boudreaux.

And they are saving the tax payers money by using less resources--like bullets, gas, and wear and tear on the vehicles and firearms.

The excitement of these advances are spreading within the department and with recruitment. In the month of October the department received 500 applications to become a sheriff deputy.

Boudreaux says technology is creating the domino effect-- that will save more lives.

"I believe that you can use technology to make our community safer and our officers safer. that is my goal that is my vision," said Boudreaux.

The use of force simulator is brand new; so officers say they don't have any data to show how it has helped during any recent shootings. But that is something they plan to compile as the program grows.

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