By John Hegger

If you feel the officer safety training received during basic training will keep you alive, there is a strong possibility that you may wish to read further into this article. During basic training, officers are given the bare bones “basic” training they need to become “certified”, which will satisfy statewide mandated training. The keyword to drill down on in this case is “basic”. If you are satisfied with gearing up and heading out on patrol with “basic” training, all that can be said is to hope that your fellow law enforcement officers have taken the opportunity to take advantage of additional officer safety training in some form of fashion.

What is officer safety training in a nutshell?

When a new recruit with no prior experience enters the police academy, they are often the equivalent of a sponge, ready to soak up as much information as possible. While there are many lessons taught that are important for an officer to learn in order to be successful, there is nothing more important than the concept of officer safety.   This is the building block of any law enforcement officer’s career. It is the foundation for which all other training can be interwoven to provide officers the tools they need to stay safe each day.   There will always be naysayers that proclaim officer safety is important, but should never come first. They proclaim that an officer is worth nothing if they can’t write a good police report. While this also an important trait to possess, without proper officer safety training, one might not make it back to the car or station in order to be able to write that report. We always need to keep in mind that we can’t build a house without a proper foundation.

Some individuals possess what is commonly known as the “sixth sense”. Generally, this can be defined as one’s ability to detect pending chaos or doom. Unfortunately, not everyone in society has the luxury of being able to use this wonderful trait. This is why it’s so important for officers to participate in ongoing officer safety training to ensure they stay up to date, and fresh on the latest tactics, techniques, and concepts that can help them remain safe upon returning from their shift. Too many officers believe that they received enough training in the academy, and feel that they don’t need to continue their focus on safety, but would rather focus on trying to get that next big promotion to becoming a detective, or supervisor. We don’t like to admit it, but letting officer safety drop to the wayside, could result in one never making it to the promotional exam or interview. Criminal offenders often train harder on street survival then most law enforcement officers. Perhaps it’s time to stop and think, will I be the next target? Consider the recent events in the news. Do you want to be the next ambush victim?

Officer safety training is more than just a simple class, it’s a lifestyle, a devotion, a will to live. It is an every changing dynamic event that officers need to stay on top of. There are multiple concepts within officer safety that should drive law enforcement personnel to constantly seek advanced training. Firearms training, defensive tactics, and weapons retention training will help an officer succeed when chaos ensues, however, another example of a personal safety tool that has proven to be helpful involves learning the ability to resolve conflict. The most valuable tool on any duty belt is interpersonal communication, also known as verbal judo on the streets. While this may sound comical to some, anyone that is skilled in verbal judo will proclaim that this particular skill has saved their life on many occasions. In a nutshell, verbal judo is the tactic or skill of utilizing communication to de-escalate potentially violent situations. The only weapon needed to practice this important safety skill is the ability to utilize the mind and recognize signs of aggression or hostility. This is often the most important training an officer can receive, and in many areas, it’s not taught as part of any basic training program, but offered as an advanced course that officers can take upon graduation.

From personal experience, interagency training, more commonly known as in-service, is quite limited to covering agency liability concerns. In order to acquire new skills that would help identify potential danger, or assist with enforcing a specific end goal, seeking additional training was left for each individual officer to find on their own. Obtaining training outside of the agency was often times crucial to success. Many local community colleges, or even other agencies allow outside law enforcement to participate in training events. There are also several locations where training can be taken online. While some people laugh at the concept of learning anything officer related in an online format, those that have experienced this type of training will gladly speak otherwise. Online training can provide a multitude of benefits for officers. Training can occur at any time, and at any place. Whether it’s in the middle of the night, or on Sunday afternoon, training can continue. With hectic schedules, in addition to outside personal commitments, it can often be difficult to take the time to sit inside of a classroom for days at a time. Just be aware that there are many options to consider when seeking additional training opportunities. Online training is commonly accepted by most state law enforcement training authorities, and simply requires proof of completion to be submitted which will then go towards an officer’s statewide personal training record.

Officers need to remain diligent in seeking officer safety training. Sadly, it has been proven time and time again that many organizations will only provide the bare bones training essential to meet accreditation standards. Most of this training is often limited to those courses that are mandated by a state authority. Some examples of this type of training involve multi-cultural diversity, professional ethics, or community policing strategies. Notice, not one mention of the word safety was made. It is often left up to the officer to seek out training opportunities in this skills set. The good news is that training opportunities do exist. One has to be diligent in seeking advanced training to continue life-long learning, or fine-tune existing skills to remain alive.   Working in law enforcement is not just shift work, it’s a twenty-four hour per day, seven day per week job. It’s a lifestyle as opposed to a career. The only way to work at improving any lifestyle is to stay on top of current events, and information that will help one perform in a successful manner. While all training is important, officer safety training will help you arrive alive.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, written in a personal capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, or any other governmental agency.