Deputies learn how to handle dogs with virtual reality training

(WMAR) - When an officer or Sheriff's deputy gets a call, they often may encounter a dog which could be a man's best friend or sometimes foe.

"It's a scary thing if you see, some dogs just look mean, and they're the most docile animals ever, so it can put the men and women in a scary situation," said Sheriff Jeff Gahler, Harford County Sheriff's Office.

And in some situations, that could cause law enforcement to use deadly force to protect themselves and others.

"My mindset was one of if an aggressive dog came at me, I would have drew my weapon and shot it because we were at that time considering dogs just as property. They weren't considered family members like they are today," said John Thompson, Deputy Executive Director National Sheriff's Association.

This is why the Harford County Sheriff's office is testing out its virtual reality simulator. It's usually reserved for training deputies on how to interact with people, with scenarios involving dogs. 

"So they can determine whether a dog is being aggressive, or if a dog is just being passive in a certain way. They can learn that in the simulator where it's safer, transfer that to the road so when they go on these calls, they can better handle the animals," said Ken Emerson, Regional Business Development Manager for VIRTRA.

Such as with voice commands, pepper spray, or taser.

"Dogs are now part of the family, they're just like one of your children, and they mean a lot, so when an officer's involved in a shooting, whether it's justified or not justified, it really rips at the community," said Thompson.

Law enforcement officers who learn how to interpret a variety of animal behaviors from playful to aggressive may not only save the lives of dogs. But save the communities they serve money.

"The courts have held that in cases where there is an unnecessary use of force, that there's damages that are attached, so any time, in any element of police work, including these types of situations, an agency could be subject to a courts ruling against it," said Gahler.

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