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NYPD Using Virtual Reality To Help Strengthen Ties With Community

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The NYPD is turning to virtual reality to help improve community relations by creating a new program to help teens make better decisions.

The new program, called "Options," is geared towards middle and high schoolers. The NYPD and Police Foundation created the program from scratch. Students scripted scenarios, such as being asked to be in a gang, that come to life in virtual reality.

Participants put on their headset as officers guide them through the decision-making process. All the characters students encounter in the clips they were shown were people of color. Police say it's in an effort to be more relatable to the communities they're trying to target.

"These are the little things that are going to help the relationships get stronger going forward, going down the road," Chief of Patrol Rodney Harrison said.

When asked if it sends the wrong message, police say the program continues to develop. Going forward, says Harrison, there will be more diversity and representation in the program.

16-year-old Bryan Skerret was among the students to test it out, and says it works.

"I don't know how to, like, de-escalate a situation like this," he said. "Like, I didn't know how to get out of it."

The new skills may be learned from a game, but in real life it's a serious matter.

So far, the Police Foundation has spent nearly $500,000 to fund the program. Their goal is to reach out to every precinct by 2020.

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