NESTLED in quiet countryside, near the Darlington to Saltburn railway line, to the east of Durham Tees Valley Airport is the heart of all firearms training for specialist police officers.

The Police Tactical Training Centre puts dozens of officers through their paces at the Urlay Nook site to prepare them for action across the Cleveland and Durham Police force areas.

The facility boasts live-fire shooting ranges, an assault house to practice method of entry techniques, classrooms and even disused double-decker buses and cars donated for training that replicates the real world.

However, the centre has recently become home to a new brand of realism, with virtual reality introduced to assess decision making under stress as part of a university study to learn more about the human brain.

As part of the study, authorised firearms officers don electrode caps and a VR headset to immerse themselves in a potentially dangerous situation. It is up to them to make the call on what to do next.

Inspector Ian Blakemore, head of firearms training and operations at the Tactical Training Centre, said: “We’ve got approximately 110 armed officers across Durham and Cleveland Police.

“All of them get trained here and we’ve had approximately a quarter of them have come in and taken part in the experiment. Hopefully this is something we can continue with the two universities, as well as some other projects we’ve got going on in with virtual reality and how we can integrate technology into their training.

“The pleasing things for ourselves is that the officers have all really bought into the tests that have been done by the academics.

“The academic world is very different to the very practical world which our officers deal in, but what we’ve found is that the training has very much kicked in and the initial results appear to show that the training appears to work.

“The officer’s reactions are what you’d expect from the training – we haven’t seen any changes in the officers themselves as such, but in those scenarios they’ve been in, they’ve reacted in a way that we would have expected.”

Insp Blakemore said he hopes the collaboration between Durham and Cleveland and the two universities continues to prove fruitful for all involved, with the potential for the forces to be at the forefront of modern-day policing training across the country.

He added: “Technology and virtual reality, it’s the way of the world nowadays. If you look across to other career paths and other vocations such as flight training, simulators are used extensively.

“If there’s some sort of simulator that we can place our officers into, being able to repeat that thought process and improve that process in training then it must make him better when he goes out on the streets, which will ultimately help him in a real life scenario.

“We’re very proud of what our officers have done, the skills that they’ve shown, we’re very grateful for the time and effort that they’ve put in and the positive attitude they’ve shown when being involved in these scenarios and it’s something we’re hopefully able to continue to do. The payback from us to them is going to be trying to improve our training so going forward the standard of training they receive is even higher than it is now, which it’s already at the highest standard.”