June 11, 2024 | Vancouver is Awesome via UVic News

In the week of June 2, Axon, a US -based company showcased its virtual reality products that are meant to help train police officers in a number of different scenarios. As the Vancouver is Awesome article described, out of the 26 different scenarios that trainees may walk through, 16 of them are in “empathy” mode, meaning that they are in the shoes of the person in crisis.

This program has sparked the interest of numerous police departments across Canada and the US, with two in BC already stating trials with the software. While the Victoria Police Department is looking into it, the cost is what is making researchers question if there isn’t alternatives.

In an interview with Vancouver is Awesome, Dr. Michelle Bonner, a political science professor at the University of Victoria, explained that this technology, while exciting, might not be the best cost-effective solution. “It’s fun and new, but it is usually expensive and does not make any difference in practice.”

Instead, Bonner suggested that they bring in people who already are working in the community with people who have problems relating to their mental-health, the ideal scenario being that the police wouldn’t be involved at all. Explaining that empathy “isn’t something that you train for.” Adding that if any training is to be effective, the people have to be open to it, not just going through the motions to finish off that segment of training.

Dr. Michelle Bonner is a political science professor at UVic whose research delves into authoritarian practices within democracy, within the lens of human rights. As stated on her UVic faculty page, “In particular, she studies the tension between police violence and democracy through studies of punitive populism, protest policing and enforced disappearances.”

If you are interested in learning more about Dr. Bonner’s work, we recommend you check out her author page on our institutional repository, UVicSpace! Or if you are interested in learning more about research involving the police, try searching for it in our “browse by subject” option!