Webinar presenter Scott Kirshner answered a number of your questions after his presentation, "Officer Survival for Probation and Parole Officers." Here are a few of his responses.
Audience Question: How much defensive tactics training do most probation officers receive typically in survival? Are we training often enough? Are we training enough detail and what should those standards be?
Scott Kirshner: Most defensive tactics academies that I have seen and talked to people is a 40-hour week long class. Is it enough? A 40-hour academy is just giving you the basics, after that you have an obligation to practice on your own or with other officers. The academy in and of itself is providing you a foundation upon on which you need to go forward to practice those skills and if you think about any training that you go to, the training doesn't end once you get that initial training, you have an obligation to do something with the training. I think in a lot of times with defensive tactics we think that we got the training and we're good to go but you have to practice those skills because a lot of information is going to be put upon you in the 40-hour academy and you have to break it down and start practicing and continually practice. Some departments have you do a one-year 8-hour refresher, others have a quarterly 8-hour refresher, but none of those are enough, those are just the basic minimum to refresh you. So, I would say officers and clearly, by the polls that we did earlier, officers need to be training a lot more on their own.
The standards need to be that you can survive a violent encounter of the worst case scenario. Now, I know that it is not the specific answer but that's the answer. You need to ask yourself, when you go to training, if I'm in the worst case scenario, would the information that's being provided to me will help me to stay alive and the reason why this is an important question is there are departments that train for the best case scenario. There are places that train that don't really address the dynamic violent encounter, the aggressive attack that will be put upon you. There are programs out there that are trying not to hurt the offender that is trying to attack you and there's a place for that but there needs to be a place in the training that prepares you for lethal force encounters of the worst case scenario.
Audience Question: One of our attendees commented, "Tactical mindset is hard to stay in when the state you work in is pushing you to be more of a social worker rather than a peace officer, this is a good point where I imagine that a lot of our audience is kind of grappling with, how do you strike that balance?"
Scott Kirshner: That is the battle, and that is why I started off this presentation saying what I’m talking about today is not mutually exclusive to the motivational interviewing, needs of the offenders or the evidence-based practices. Here's the reality, the department has an agenda that they are going to push on you and too often it's offender focused, it's not officer focused. They have limited resources, so they don't give you the survival training that you need to be a safe officer.
So, if that's the case you're in and if you're working for a department that's more counseling oriented and your department is not providing what you need then on your own you have to go out and search the skills that you need. This might mean joining a Brazilian jiu-jitsu place, a martial arts academy, going out and purchasing your own firearm that you'll be using separate from work and getting the skills that you need. Now, to get departments on point with officer survival you need to probably start putting together an officer safety committee and outline clearly what are the goals and objectives of that committee and it's an uphill battle and it's tough. In this presentation, I start off with officers that have literally given their lives in the line of duty and have been killed. So, we know that this is a real possibility, departments can no longer ignore that reality. We know officers are getting assaulted, we know that 67 percent today are verbally abused based on today's polling question, so we can't just rely on verbal de-escalations skills and OC training, we have to go further. We have to be doing defensive tactics. We have to have departments that are arming their staff. Personally, I think every PO should be armed.
This is what I was saying, I’ve gone from a department that has very little officer survival and officer safety training, at the most it is verbal and OC spray, then we transitioned to a complete defensive tactics academy, firearm academy and in the vast majority of the cases the PO's acted extremely professionally. Everybody is worried that they are going to turn to a police officer, they're not, POs know what their mission statement is, they know it what they need to do for their job, giving them officer survival training, skills and equipment is not going to change that. Now, if you run into an officer who does act inappropriately then the department has the responsibility to handle that on an individual basis.
Audience Question: We are still feeling like our agencies aren't preparing for close violent confrontations, how do we start to have that conversation with our supervisors so that we're heard?
Scott Kirshner: One of the things that needs to happen is departments need to start documenting any kind of critical incident. If an officer is assaulted, if they're threatened or verbally abused. Officers need to have a process to write that down and document incidents. We need to start aggregating data that supports the need for officer survival training. The other thing I would recommend, if you're just an individual officer in a unit and you feel like you're not empowered within your department, the way you start is you tell your supervisor. I think every unit meeting must have an officer safety topic. It needs to be a standard part of meetings. Start talking with the other officers. Form an officer safety committee and start outlining exactly what it is that you want to accomplish. It takes time and the department will say that they don't have the funding for it, but guess what? The first time an officer is seriously injured or killed they're going to find the money for it. So, the money is there and I don't like it when departments use that the budget is tight and there's no money, because when things go bad, they find money.
Audience Question: Do you have any suggestions or ideas on how to increase officer participation in defensive tactics training or boosters offered throughout the year by a department?
Scott Kirshner: Make it mandatory. Departments should make it mandatory. In talking to a lot of officers I often see they make it a mandatory 8-hour refresher every year or they make it a quarterly refresher. I would say a quarterly refresher should be the minimum but what I also recommend is if you can there are going to be other officers in your department who are safety minded, get with them, develop a group where you do training together. That will help. The Department can mandate it and I think that's probably a good thing to do but if they don't then officers again have to band together and practice on their own.
Audience Question: How do you request to be armed by your department?
Scott Kirshner: The department would have a process for that. Every department would have a process on what it's going to take for you to be armed and you'd just have to go with whatever that policy and process stipulates.
Audience Question: One would assume that the risk of a violent attack on an officer would increase proportionately with the amount of violence on record by the offender we're contacting. But is that really true?
Scott Kirshner: I remember the first day of the training as a PO and the quote they gave us is "the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior." So, I don't get wrapped up in whether that's true or not. I have the mindset that anybody who I interact with can be a potential threat. Their past history is definitely a factor and the more violent the criminal history is, I do think that a person has an increased level of potential to hurt you.
What happens if you get an offender who has no criminal history and maybe they're on for a white collar crime, it's easy to just dismiss them – they're never going to be violent. Take the information that's in your case file, learn from it and read the files completely. But at the end of the day, just know that anybody that you interact with can be a potential threat to you, and you need to be able to respond to appropriately.
Audience Question: What can we do in the office to diminish complacency even if it comes from our superiors?
Scott Kirshner: Talk to each other. I've never been in a situation where there's not complacency around. Part of the problem is it gets typically worse in POs that have been on the job for a long time and nothing has ever happened to them. They make the assumption like we talked about earlier, "I've been doing this for so long and nothing has ever happened. I, therefore, know that I'm safe for the rest of my career."
I think the way you do it is maybe talk about developing some posters that you can put up in the office. If you see somebody who's not engaging the safe practice, talk to them in a professional manner and say, "Hey, I noticed you did this, there might be a better way to do it to help keep you safer." If you do it in a demeaning or disrespectful way, you're just going to shut that officer down. We need to do it in a way that people are understanding that you're doing it from a caring, thoughtful perspective and you actually want to help them. At the end of the day, you might encounter officers who is that's just the way they are and they're never going to change.
Click here to watch a recording of "Officer Survival for Probation and Parole Officers."