The Time I Went on Border Patrol in a Virtual Reality World, by Fernanda Santos

TUCSON — I found myself on a desolate desert road, in front of a man who was leaning against the hood of a banged-up sedan and next to a United States Border Patrol agent who was on the radio of her patrol vehicle, running the sedan’s license plate.

In this virtual reality role-playing exercise in a Border Patrol simulator, my job was to keep an eye on the man.

He seemed nervous. His legs twitched. His eyes darted from side to side, as if he were searching for a chance to escape.

Suddenly, he walked to the driver’s side window of the sedan and reached inside.

I pulled my pistol from its holster, pointed it at him and yelled: “Sir, get back to the hood of the car! Get back to the hood of the car!”

The whole thing felt real, and that was exactly the point. The idea of the simulator is to immerse agents in the type of tense situations that they are likely to face on the job, and put their judgment and reactions to the test.

Will the suspect comply with a command? Will the agent pull the trigger?

The situations are based on real-life events. The difference is that, on the simulator screen, the interactions unfold based on the agents’ responses.

“We want to know, what did you see?” said Jason Daniels, an instructor who trains Border Patrol agents. “Why did you react that way? What else could you have done?”

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