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Exclusive: Inside the new VR simulations training PSPD officers for life-or-death decisions

New training is being deployed at Palm Springs Police Department, using virtual reality simulations to prepare officers to make momentary but vitally important decisions.

News Channel 3's Jake Ingrassia got an exclusive inside look at the new technology that demonstrates the immense pressure police can be put under.

Officer Jose Arellano, a motor officer and use of force instructor with PSPD, demonstrated active shooter training in a hospital simulation.

After "entering" the lobby, Arellano had just moments to note the three wounded or dead victims on the ground before firing his gun twice at a man holding a pistol.

"You don't have time to think; you just have time to react," Arellano said. "Your thought process is to save as many lives."

"We’re looking for decision-making, teaching (officers) decision making, what it means to have to make a choice to keep them alive, and also to give them the opportunities to understand that they can de-escalate," Lt. William Hutchinson said.

That's where police training proves critical, Hutchinson said, at a time when use of force is in the national spotlight.

Former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin's own police chief called his neck restraint on George Floyd "unauthorized" and "excessive."

Minnesota police veteran and training officer Kim Potter fatally shot Duante Wright earlier this month after she said she accidentally fired her handgun instead of her taser.

"We need training to know where our tools of the trade are," Arellano said. "Your taser, which is non lethal; your handgun, which is lethal. You need to know where those tools are at."

Police said even on camera, situations are different when analyzed in hindsight versus reacting in the moment.

Body camera footage is under scrutiny this week showing the deadly police shooting of Ma'Khia Bryant, a Black Ohio teenager who charged at two people with a knife.

"We really need to slow down; we need to look at facts; we need to really consider what officers see in their mind, the information they have when they are responding," Hutchinson said.

The new virtual reality training module at PSPD, he said, is helping officers make those instantaneous choices.

"Mistakes can be made, and unfortunately those can cost lives," Arellano said. "We can't afford to make mistakes nowadays. There's been a climate change and we need to train."

Palm Springs Police Department will serve as a regional training center for the virtual reality simulations, allowing other departments in the valley and from around the state to use the technology.

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Jake Ingrassia

Joining News Channel 3 and CBS Local 2 as a reporter, Jake is excited to be launching his broadcasting career here in the desert. Learn more about Jake here.

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