Morehouse College has partnered with Google to create anti-bias and de-escalation training for police and law enforcement agencies through a virtual reality (VR) program. The school’s Culturally Relevant Computing Lab and its National Training Institute on Race and Equity announced its working alongside Google’s Jigsaw to conduct research using Trainer, a virtual platform designed to train police in de-escalation tactics in a realistic virtual environment. “We hope that the program will allow law enforcement officers to walk in the shoes of community members, particularly young Black males, and develop a deeper sense of empathy,” Bryant Marks, Ph.D., associate professor at Morehouse College and founder and principal trainer at the National Training Institute on Race and Equity said in an official statement. “Police officers and the public will benefit if the technology can assist in reducing the number of fatal–and controversial–police shootings of unarmed African Americans. We are excited about this technology because immersive experiences have been shown to have a profound impact on thinking and behavior. This technology, in combination with strong anti-bias training, not only has the potential to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in policing but also enhance the life outcomes of historically marginalized groups in many other areas.”
Morehouse’s Culturally Relevant Computing Lab and its National Training Institute on Race and Equity will study Trainer’s effect on officer’s empathy toward Black Americans. The program uses recent advances in voice recognition, natural language processing, and VR to provide law enforcement instructors and criminal justice scholars with an immersive environment to train and study officer performance. Kinnis Gosha, Ph.D., division chair of experiential learning and interdisciplinary studies at Morehouse College, said, “It’s important for everyone in the community to understand how complicated, intense, and stressful these encounters are for both sides.”
“Technology can help ease these encounters and this partnership is just the starting point,” she continued. “The focus for this pilot will be centered around three stakeholders: the officer, the bystander, and an adolescent participant. Our hopes are that we can understand the effectiveness of the software as it currently stands and what enhancements can be made to make the software more effective.” The next phase of the work includes academic researchers and students at Morehouse determining the program’s impact. Researchers at the University of Cincinnati’s Center for Police Research and Policy, University of Maryland’s Lab for Applied Social Science Research (LASSR), and Georgetown University’s Law Center, Innovative Policing Program were also selected to conduct law enforcement de-escalation research using Trainer.