Engaging Youth

The New York City Police Department and the New York City Police Foundation established the Options Program, which helps New York City youth build decision-making skills. Using virtual reality programs, Options employs an interactive, scenario-based curriculum to enhance emotional intelligence, develop de-escalation skills, and strengthen situational awareness. The program connects its young participants with useful resources and potential career opportunities.

To date, hundreds of NYPD officers and thousands of young people have participated in these dynamic workshops, which have fostered authentic, thoughtful and productive discussions regarding real-life situations and skills to to navigate the challenges young people in New York City face.

Pivoting During the Pandemic

From Options VR (Virtual Reality) to Options VOLT (Virtual Online Leadership Training)

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Options team adapted the program to address changing dynamics and social distancing restrictions and beyond. This newest program component, Options VOLT, symbolizes an evolutionary programmatic shift that provides an online training platform designed to reach and empower a broadening base of young New Yorkers. The life skills development, career orientation, and training is all delivered remotely.

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea tries out Options VR

Options VOLT includes:
    • Interactive home classroom workshops
      • Participants story board and produce their own scenarios to be incorporated into the Options curriculum     
    • Social media contests for Options participants
      • Young people submit personal videos about their experiences with Virtual Reality and the lessons they learn from the program
    • A virtual career development/job program (Learn to Earn) created in conjunction with corporate partners, city agencies, and community organizations

Options ‘Learn to Earn’

The pandemic has created an enormous financial burden on New York City and led to cuts for youth services and summer jobs. To address this issue, the NYPD and the Police Foundation developed Options Learn to Earn, a 6-week long summer program focusing on career development that includes stipends for participants from across the city.

Learn to Earn offers a dynamic set of remote workshops designed to provide practical experience and demonstrable job skills to urban youth. Interactive, scenario-based workshops broaden young people’s horizons to the options that are available and specific training provides a foundation for reaching those career goals. In addition to workshops, participants are involved in local projects with specific deliverables that incorporate using skills learned in workshops. Participants are split up into the following four workshop tracks: Community Building, Finance, Communications, and Storyboarding/Scenario Based Training.

To me, the best part of being a Police Officer in the NYPD is helping kids across the city. I've never seen kids respond as they do to the Options Program. I'm positive it has everything to do with the combination of the curriculum and the virtual reality technology.
Detective Jason Anazagasty
Nobody ever asked me before how I feel about my neighborhood. It makes you want to be a part of making it better.
John Negron, Student
The young people see these virtual reality scenarios and, together with our officers, find ways to de-escalate situations and make intelligent decisions to get through some of the difficult challenges they face growing up in the city.
Chief Rodney Harrison

Options & Virtual Reality


Options is a three-day program in which Police Officers and young people work together to develop conflict resolution and emotional intelligence skills. The program is designed to encourage dialogue with Police Officers and incorporate youth into Neighborhood Policing.

The program culminates with an officer-led virtual reality session in which young people are presented with difficult and dangerous scenarios they may face on the streets of New York. Participants are asked to think of strategies they can use to extricate themselves from these situations.

  • Day 1: Emotional Intelligence includes exercises to build trust between participants and the officers as well as teaching the basics of reading and controlling emotions.
  • Day 2: Tools of Resolution teaches how emotions affect decision-making and how they expand or limit options and introduces police split-second decision-making.
  • Day 3: Application begins with virtual-reality scenarios to apply lessons from the first two days while giving more specific tools to help participants tailor their emotional responses to make better decisions.

Options Virtual Reality Scenarios

  • Gang Recruitment
  • Gang Colors
  • Knock-Out Game (Asked to punch a stranger)
  • Gun Violence
  • Police Stop (From Youth perspective)
  • Police Stop (From Police perspective)
  • Cyberbullying
  • Forcible Touching (Bullying)
  • Hate Crimes
  • Sex Trafficking (Not Being a Victim)
  • Opiods
  • Domestic Violence

Screenshot of Options VR

Photography by Josh Touster