Northern Regional Police now using state-of-the-art 3D virtual training system

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
Northern York County Regional Police Department Sgt. Cody Becker, left, is watched by Ethan Moeller, vice president of WRAP Reality, while Becker used a virtual reality law enforcement simulator during training at the department Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. Bill Kalina photo

A York County police department is the first in the nation to agree to lease a 3D virtual-reality training system that officers have said feels just like real life.

Northern York County Regional Police tested the Wrap Reality system in January, and The York Dispatch was there to watch.

"You truly believe you're there," Chief Dave Lash said after the demonstration. "Your mind believes it. Your heart rate goes up."

Northern Regional Police have contracted to use the training simulator system for five years at a total cost of $125,000, Lash said, for two officers at a time.

"Our community partners have paid over 90% of the cost," the chief said — $113,000. "I think it shows that Northern Regional Police has great community support and is well respected in our community. … They recognized the value and importance of this project and got behind officers to provide them with state-of-the-art training."

The department is still looking for more private donors, but if there are none, the so-far uncovered $12,000 will come from Northern Regional's budget, he said.

Northern Regional officers are also now carrying the BolaWrap nonlethal restraint device.

'Leveraging technology': The department bought 20 of the devices for about $1,000 each from Wrap Technologies, according to Lash. That's the same company that offers the full-immersion 3D training system.

The department bought the BolaWrap devices following a three-month trial period, he said.

BolaWrap is a handheld remote restraint device that shoots an 8-foot-long Kevlar tether wraps a person's legs or arms, according to the manufacturer.

"All of our patrol officers when they are out on the street are equipped with BolaWrap," Lash said, adding that it's the first nonlethal restraint device offered to police that doesn't rely on pain compliance.

"We're leveraging technology to take people into custody with the least amount of force possible," he said.

BolaWrap is a handheld remote restraint device that shoots an 8-foot-long Kevlar tether at 513 feet per second that wraps a person's legs or arms and is effective at a range of 10 to 25 feet, according to the manufacturer.

More:Northern Regional Police testing new nonlethal restraint device

The hope is that BolaWrap gives officers the chance to safely deescalate encounters with the public using little or no force, Lash said.

"We’re looking at it as another tool for the officers to deal with emotionally disturbed persons and other noncompliant individuals," he said.

About Wrap Reality: The department's new "full immersion" virtual-reality training system allows officers to look behind them, above them and side to side, and their senses tell them they are actually in the room.

Northern York County Regional Police Department Chief Dave Lash wears a visual simulator during virtual reality law enforcement training at the department Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. Bill Kalina photo

The program responds to their actions and modifies scenarios based on individual actions, Wrap Reality Vice President Ethan Moeller said.

The 3D training allows more than one officer to participate at a time, and scenarios range from traffic stops on busy highways to active-shooter calls to domestic disputes to home-invasion calls, as well as shooting-range programs.

In the domestic-dispute scenario, a dog barks in the background the entire time. In the traffic-stop scenario, cars and trucks speed past the officer standing along the side of the road.

"We like to say it's designed by police, for police," said Marc Thomas, chief government affairs officers for Wrap Technologies, the parent company of Wrap Reality. "It's a huge game-changer."

More:Northern Regional Police, York County elected officials try new 3D virtual-reality training

Thomas said officers can also use Wrap Reality to practice firing their weapons, which would mean less time at the shooting range and fewer bullets used, he said. 

Analysis and review: After a training scenario, the programs analyze what actions the officers took and provide information including the timeline of the scenario, the number of shots officers fired, the number of bullets that hit their targets and how many missed their target, Wrap officials said. Trajectories can be examined as well.

Northern York County Regional Police Sgt. Cody Becker (right) points a Wrap Reality 3D virtual-reality training weapon at the bad guy he sees during a training demonstration on Jan. 11, 2021, as Wrap Reality Vice President Ethan Moeller keeps him from walking into walls, chairs and people. Becker can't see a reporter sitting in front of him.
(Liz Evans Scolforo photo)

Trainings include scenarios in which officers are using rifles, shotguns, pepper spray and Tasers — or simply their own people skills, they said, and the scenario grids can be up to 30-by-30-feet square. There are currently 47 scenarios that deal with everything from de-escalation to lethal use of force, Thomas said.

Officers can use their own weapons, according to Thomas, who said it takes five minutes to switch out the parts that make service weapons fire and replace them with parts that let them work only in virtual reality.

Each scenario can be modified to increase or decrease the level of danger or to ensure  officers won't be successful if they're not asking the right questions of the virtual people they encounter.

The community partners who have picked up most of the cost of the Wrap Reality system are: Sentinel Connector Systems Inc., H&H General Contracting, Conewago Enterprises, Inch & Co., P.H. Glatfelter Co., the Powder Mill Foundation, the Arthur J. Glatfelter Foundation, the J. William Warehime Foundation and AquaPhoenix Scientific.

Anyone interesting in being a sponsor can call Chief Lash at 717-292-0542 for more information.

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.