This corner column by Stewart Curry was first published in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.
Doing the right thing: It’s what we aspire to as children, parents, friends and citizens. It’s also what we expect from professionals like doctors who prescribe our treatments, accountants who calculate our taxes and certainly peace officers who ensure our safety. For 10 years, I’ve been involved in peace officer training at Colorado Mountain College and “doing the right thing,” as much as possible, is what we try to teach.
There is great pressure on a peace officer to do the right thing in any given situation. There are few occupations where decisions can mean life or death, where fast thinking can avoid and mitigate conflict and where actions are scrutinized after the fact.
We spend a considerable amount of time in our academy on simulation and scenario-based training. We’ll present a trainee with a staged scenario and equip them with a “toolbelt” that includes the obvious things: pepper spray, taser and handgun. But it also includes one of the most powerful, effective and preferred tools: verbal skills.
We place a primary emphasis on forethought and use of communication as the first tool to reach for. There’s value in simply asking. In most situations, an officer can attain cooperation by asking politely for the required information and explaining the reasoning behind enforcement. In the case of a traffic stop, a peace officer can usually point to the fact that the community itself has asked for more policing of speeding in that area, perhaps due to the proximity of a bus stop or park. This kind of communication helps defuse anxiety, letting people know they are not being singled out, and gives them the “why” behind the action.
To a large extent, it is the person involved in a dispute who controls the outcome of a situation. We teach the progression: Ask, Tell, Make. When an officer responds to a call, ideally the encounter would end in the first stage. However, in crisis situations, emotions run high and people are usually not at their best. The next course of action is to “tell,” or command an offender to comply, and as a last resort, an officer may have no other choice than to “make” the offender comply through use of force — which no one wants to see.Experienced officers know there is a fine line between being thoughtful and being safe. If an officer is too complacent, there is a very real risk he or she and possibly others could be harmed.
Our academy provides a number of skills-centric courses such as driving, firearms and arrest techniques, but in all of them, there is an overriding emphasis on communication. These courses present opportunities for scenarios and the benefit is that the trainees can witness, discuss and examine the choices that were made, all in an effort to equip them in the best way possible to do the right thing on the job.
Stewart Curry is a full-time instructor in the Colorado Law Enforcement Training Academy (CLETA) at CMC in Glenwood Springs-Spring Valley. The academy runs year-round and the next session begins May 4. For more information, please visit coloradomtn.edu/CLETA.