NEW YORK - "Yo, yo, yo, that crew is coming right now. Play it cool" shouts a teen character in a virtual reality program produced by the NYPD.
The police department has begun using VR technology to teach teens how to make good decisions and stay out gangs and trouble.
"We are going into the communities and having these kids see these scenarios through virtual reality and see how they de-esculate the situation. How they make an intelligent decision to get through some of these difficult things growing up in the city," said NYPD Chief of Department Rodney Harrison.
Another character in the VR program says, "If you not down with me, I am going to look dumb. So I need for you to put this on for me."
This scenario tries to pressure a kid to put on gang colors. Participants using the VR headsets can respond in various ways and discuss the outcome with officers.
The demonstration was held inside police headquarters in Lower Manhattan. The department has trained 100 officers to administer the program, called options, in schools and churches. Brian Skerret, a 16-year-old from Brownsville, Brooklyn said the program does give young people knowledge and ability that they can use.
"You can actually speak up and de-esculate a situation and actually say no to a gang if they want you and turn them down," Skerret added.
Local teenagers helped to come up with the real life scenarios. They were also used as models for the characters in the actual virtual reality programs.
Police Officer Carlos Posada from the 90th Precinct has worked with some of the teens and said, "These are real kids born and bred in Brooklyn, New York. They talk the talk, walk the walk. This is them, this is not make believe. These are not paid actors. These are actual youth from Brooklyn."
A character in another scenario is excited about going to a party that might involve drugs and sex. I it he says, "We ain't going to waste anytime, we are out right now. You coming?"
The Police Foundation which is a private group that raises funds for the NYPD says it has put close to a half a million dollars into the project.
The NYPD has this program in 20 commands across the city, but the goal is to have it in every precinct as soon as possible.
The VR programs also allow teens to experience scenarios through the eyes of a police officer. It's an-eye opening experience for young people and perhaps the officers as well who are learning how to better relate to teens.