New VR tech aims to help cops feel mental distress

A new pilot program in Chicago uses virtual reality to help police better understand how to handle a subject who is in the midst of psychiatric distress.
4:38 | 05/24/19

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Transcript for New VR tech aims to help cops feel mental distress
Yeah, definitely not worth To an ABC news exclusive. We got your first look at the revolutionary new way one big city is rethinking policing and gio Benitez has more on the virtual training that could help save lives. Efrtd police officers arrive at a scene and have a slew of questions, whether the person is a criminal or in mental distress. At least one police department is using technology to put officers right there in these scenarios. Just a warning, what you're about to see may be difficult to watch. What's going on? Reporter: Watch as this police body cam shows an Arizona officer approaching a 14-year-old boy on suspicion of drug use. What the cop doesn't realize is he actually has autism. I'm okay. I'm okay. Aaag him. Stay down. I'm okay, I'm okay. Reporter: Minutes later the boy's aunt arrives. He's doing something with his hands. Is there something in his hands. It's when you have autism. It's nerves. Reporter: This is what it looks like. He thought the item he was waving, as string might have been drugs. The scene ends on good terms. No hard feelings. Reporter: The police department is defending the actions of the officer but the young man was allegedly left with scrapes and bruises. The family is now suing the city. It's scenarios like this one that are all too common and sometimes fatal. Shots fired by police? Just to confirm. Yes, they were. Reporter: In 2015 a Chicago officer killing this 19-year-old whose family said had mental That incident was a teachable we have to do a better job in providing our officers with the best training that we can so that when they get into mental health issues, they're better able to identify it. Have you put the headsets back on. Reporter: The Chicago pd is piloting a new program. One that uses virtual reality to train for these delicate situations. Here we go. Reporter: I strap in and put in the shoes of an officer approaching someone experiencing a mental health crisis. That's going on. Reporter: Specifically schizophrenia. He has a screwdriver. Reporter: I'm given two options for what my character should say. Can we talk or drop it now. What happens when I choose drop it now, the more aggressive choice. Drop the screwdriver. No. Drop the screwdriver now. Sir, get inside. Reporter: The scene escalating and my character is given a choice, taser -- If you don't drop it, I'm going to tase you. Reporter: Or firearm. Only drawing a weapon further intensifies the situation. Experts say this kind of hair trigger tension could mean the difference between tragedy and a peaceful outcome. Kyle, get down on your knees. Reporter: Now watch what happens when I choose can we talk? Listen, listen, I need you to put that screwdriver down. Put it down. Toss it to the side for me. Reporter: He's much more responsive. Good, thank you. We see this has now de-escalated dramatically. One of the training officers here and a representative from axon the company that developed the program. We selected can we talk? That was the right choice. As far as talking to him first, absolutely. You want to start your initial assessment and find out does he know where he's at. Is he delusional, hallucinating. To him that screwdriver might not be a weapon. It could be a magic wand, it could be anything until we start talking to him. We can buy time and calm the situation down and engage with that person productively. It's not always a situation where we have to use force. Reporter: It teaches empathy, putting officers in the shoes of the suspect who might be hearing voices in his head. Who sent you here? Why are you here? Are you working for them? Reporter: In another scene we're shown how just turning the lights and radio off can make a big difference for someone with autism. Partner, let's kill the lights and turn the radio down. Reporter: They're experiencing lights and soups in ways you were not when you abroach the scenario so we want to keep the officers aware. That person is experiencing something else and what may wok for one individual may not work here. Training with those vr head1e9s is not replacing traditional intervention crisis training but meant to be a part of it. What was most striking for me and the officer, seeing what was going on from the perspective of someone having this mental health episode and that's what they're hoping leads to more empathy. More understanding. Yeah. Does it feel real? It felt real. The first scene I had, I was that person with schizophrenia and I heard those voice, it felt real. Thank you. Thanks so much. Coming up, a new look at one

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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