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Priority driving with Virtual Reality: A new training approach for Belgian Police in Ghent

December 12, 2023

Responding with screaming sirens for a shop robbery, a violent altercation, or a domestic violence situation is a daily task for police officers. That's precisely why they receive training in priority driving: learning to drive smoothly and safely through traffic while minimizing risks. In Ghent, the police use Virtual Reality as part of their training. 'On public roads, you can't intentionally seek out dangerous situations. But in a virtual world, you can.'

Steve Delbecq is a chief inspector of the Ghent Police Zone. He understands better than most how crucial it is for officers to master priority driving. 'If your speed is too high, if you don't slow down enough at a red light, or if you maintain too little distance from the car in front of you, you significantly increase the risk of accidents. In those moments, both you and others have less time to react to unpredictable circumstances. That's why we teach officers to drive fast where possible and slow down when necessary. They also learn to pay attention to factors like road width and unexpected situations, from a child suddenly crossing the street to a driver ahead suddenly slamming the brakes.'

VR: An alternative way to boring PowerPoint

Until a year ago, the teaching method was traditional: the instructor explained what to expect and how to react best. Delbecq says, 'We gave the trainees the chance to engage with us, but it was often a one-sided story. They quietly absorbed the theory.'

The Ghent Police were already familiar with VR through a project on ethnic profiling. Further exploration prompted Delbecq to implement VR into the Priority Driving training. 'Erik Jan Bijvank and Justin Karten from Scopic_Labs (based in Amsterdam) showed me a recruitment video. That opened my eyes to the possibilities of VR. Previously, when I thought of Virtual Reality, I just considered playing games on PlayStation. But this showed me it's much more than that. You can stage situations and assign an educational purpose to each scene.'

Creating a future memory

A team from the Ghent Police and Scopic_Labs collaborated to develop a VR experience entirely focused on Priority Driving. Delbecq adds, 'Justin and Erik Jan listened very well to the concerns of the officers navigating traffic with the highest possible urgency. Using their creativity, they demonstrated how VR could benefit us. This resulted in a video that we launched to our trainees a few months ago.'

The initial reactions have been positive, Delbecq reports. 'Because it's so lifelike, they immediately grasp what they might encounter on the road. Seeing it with a 360-degree view is vastly different from listening to a PowerPoint presentation. And intentionally seeking danger on public roads isn't an option, of course. VR replicates reality much better. We now begin our training with this VR experience. It not only makes the officers more enthusiastic about the material but also sparks discussions. They're eager to share their experiences and ideas. Most importantly, having a future memory as you hit the road is an asset. After all, words are just words. A lifelike image sticks stronger and better prepares you for what you might encounter.'

Constructive feedback

Delbecq hopes for another positive effect. 'As an officer, you need to arrive quickly at urgent calls, but nobody benefits from another accident. That's why we encourage a culture of open communication. If you see a colleague taking unnecessary risks, you should be able to speak up. However, that doesn't happen nearly enough. As the trainees become more open in their communication, they are more inclined to intervene on the road if their safety and that of other road users are at risk.'

A group of police officers in Ghent, part of the intervention team, have completed the Priority Driving training integrated with VR. But Delbecq doesn't plan to stop there. 'The collaboration with Scopic_Labs is ongoing, and for us, this is just the beginning. We already know that the VR experience is an incredibly valuable addition to the rest of the training. Hopefully, officers not just in Ghent but also in other parts of the country will discover this.'

VR in your organization too?

If you want to learn more about the Priority Driving project at the Ghent Police Zone, check here. If you're interested in the possibilities of Virtual Reality in your work environment, visit Scopic_Labs' website or contact them directly for more information or to request a demo.

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