Avatars to ‘improve custody safety’

12 September 2017

CC Nick Ephgrave

Chief Constable Nick Ephgrave addressing the National Custody Seminar

Custody officers could soon be training using virtual reality avatars to improve the safety of detainees, according to the National Police Chiefs' Council lead on custody.

The video gaming cutting-edge technology, already in use in the military, is being explored in a bid to raise the standards of custody training nationally and ensure consistency across forces.

National custody lead Chief Constable Nick Ephgrave described what might be possible in virtual training as the policing custody world awaits the publication of the Independent Review into Deaths and Serious Incidents in Custody, ordered by the then Home Secretary Theresa May in 2015.  Still under wraps, the report is likely to focus on issues including the welfare of those suffering from mental health issues and restraint in custody.

Speaking at our National Custody Seminar today, Mr Ephgrave said the virtual reality training concept was being developed at no cost to policing but could revolutionise custody training.  “Using 3D simulation we could develop virtual custody suites inhabited by avatars which trainers can use to replicate a series of custody scenarios operating from anywhere in the country. We can monitor and record all the interaction, adapting its use for every type of situation. It can even measure eye contact. The technology is very exciting.”

Custody training is also likely to feature highly in the long-awaited Independent Review, which was chaired by Dame Elish Angiolini. Last month, the Police Federation's custody lead Andy Ward criticised the delay in its publication as some forces have waited more than five years for custody refresher training.

Mr Ephgrave told more than 100 delegates: “One of our biggest priorities is training for custody staff; in the past we have been criticised for our inability to learn lessons and we also need to develop a consistent approach to safety in custody and risk management, and better working with medical and mental health partners.”

Last year over 900,000 people passed through police custody, he said, and of those a significant proportion had physical or mental health issues.