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Company shows local law enforcement new technology to increase public safety

Axon demonstrates virtual reality involving mental health crises
Axon virtual reality
Posted at 4:40 PM, Apr 20, 2023

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Fort Myers Police Department is always looking at new ways to combat crime and keep the community safe. Axon, the company known for its body cameras, came to the area to show off its latest technology.

The department has several tools in the tool belt between body cameras and license plate readers, but things like that can't help someone in a mental crisis. The way to address that is through training in real-life scenarios in a controlled environment.

"It’s meant to help train on dealing with mental illness, different kinds of issues we come across as law enforcement every day," said Sgt. Edward Cutie with the Fort Myers Police Department.

Company shows local law enforcement new technology to increase public safety

Sgt. Cutie is talking about a virtual reality scenario Axon showed on Thursday. Officers can see what it's like to be in the shoes of someone in crisis.

"It gives me a better idea because I hear those voices that you hear in my head," Cutie said as he played the role of someone with schizophrenia.

In the training, they then play the role of an officer and respond to the person in crisis.

"When you’re in here and actually have to interact with it, you’re more susceptible to remembering that," an Axon representative said. "The confidence, the competence — they can build that in there in an environment that we can use and it’s safe."

FMPD already has something like this to train with. They do have other tools from Axon, such as body cameras and tasers.

The current taser has two probes that shoot off at once. With the new one, it fires one at a time in a 10-round cartridge.

"This allows us to create our spread and fire single probes," an Axon representative said.

The taser FMPD has now makes a sound with an electric current as a warning. With the new taser, it has a warning alert rather than the current.

"It kind of improves the accuracy of the deployments and ultimately the effectiveness of the weapon," Cutie said.

Some of the other equipment the department already has, which is updated from Axon, is a camera that faces the backseat of a patrol car. It's also equipped with a dash cam and a license plate reader as officers are driving.

"The front camera is constantly reading license plates and notifying us of stolen vehicles and things of that nature," Cutie said.

They can also use the cameras to record and potentially go back to see if a suspect's vehicle was captured to help them with an investigation.

"It’s just providing us with more tools and training abilities to kind of learn and be better prepared to handle those situations out in the real world," Cutie said.

The department says it's about transparency and preparedness for the community.

"It’s just to help one: public safety. Two: for the successful outcome for these incidents," Cutie explained.

FMPD has a contract with Axon for certain equipment. They won't get the upgraded technology yet. Cutie said they have to wait until they are due for an upgrade, which comes in intervals, according to the contract.

However, Cutie says he's going to try and fast track newer body cameras first.