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GMP turns to virtual reality to up-skill specialist investigators

A force has turned to virtual reality technology to improve child protection training.

Greater Manchester Police have teamed up with an interactive software developer to create a digital learning programme tailored to complex investigations.

Bolton firm Near-Life has created a 3D video training course where learners have the opportunity to take on the roles of both officer and investigator in a simulated Child Sexual Exploitation case.

The project was enabled by £241,000 in funding from Innovate UK in November 2020 to accelerate the development of an interactive learning programme tailored to complex investigations – an area of police training identified as challenging and of the greatest need.

Each module features a combination of written content and videos on a range of topics from unconscious bias to recognising risk factors, conducting searches of a missing person’s home and using the Appropriate Language Policy.

To complete each section, the user must go through an interactive scenario where they are given decisions to make as part of a simulated investigation.

Their choice dictates what happens next in the simulation, giving officers the opportunity to test potential decision-based outcomes around complex investigations to improve problem solving and decision making in a safe learning environment.

The benefit of the technology is it enables the learner to get into a challenging situation but without putting themselves or others in danger.

The firm has developed training simulators for nursing, humanitarian aid workers and even Bolton Wanderers Football Club.

“Through our work with Greater Manchester Police over the last 12 months, we’ve really got to understand, in practice, the potential that using a gamified simulation approach has for dealing with a complex, sensitive and challenging topic like investigating potential Child Sexual Exploitation cases,” explained Mike Todd, the firm’s Chief Executive.

For the force, the benefits are that assessors can track performance and quickly spot learning points to develop as part of further support.

Superintendent Gareth Parkin said: “GMP are constantly looking at how to improve learning to help keep our communities safe. This interactive pilot project, which focuses on a very important topic, is a key part of our ongoing efforts to explore new ways in which innovation can support our work.”

It’s part of a trend towards online learning that was accelerated during COVID-19 lockdown that included a rapid switch to online promotion exams and even selection interivews.

Supt Parkin said: “Undoubtedly, the learning supply chain is being disrupted. The pandemic has brought with it many new ways of working and immersive technology has been given the chance to really demonstrate how it can be a cost-effective way to improve engagement and generate better results.”

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