California Police Chief- Fall 2013 - Page 13

is the techniques and tools officers have at their fingertips , said Graves . “ I was on SWAT as a young man in 1992 and we would constantly be called out ,” he said . “ Fast forward 25 years and our SWAT team isn ’ t called out nearly as much . It ’ s not that crime has decreased , but the average officer has better training on how to approach a situation when years earlier they would ’ ve called SWAT .
“ When I first started , all I had was a revolver , a can of Mace , and a baton ,” said Graves . “ Now officers have Tasers , bean-bag launchers , pepper spray — there ’ s so much more equipment available for cops to protect themselves and to stop incidents before they escalate .” Along with many of those tools come ongoing training and often required re-certifications .
Technology has given officers more tools than ever , but could all of this actually be detrimental to officer safety ? Are officers overwhelmed by which tool or tactic they should apply while dealing with all the additional societal demands thrust upon them ? Are Officers Expected to Do Too Much ? “ When I first started , cops weren ’ t dealing with nearly as much in terms of addressing societal problems ,” said Graves . “ But now , we ’ re asking so much and giving them so much training that they ’ re becoming overwhelmed .” Rendering medical aid is a great example of this . Around the country officers are equipped with Narcan , a drug that reverses drug overdose . “ People think this is a great solution because cops get there the quickest so they should administer Narcan and try to save these people ,” said Graves . “ The problem is that the places where people are overdosing often pose an officer safety problem .”
Graves has seen this danger first hand . In one situation , he arrived at a house where a young officer was administering CPR to a man who had overdosed . However , in doing so , he ’ d forgotten to clear the scene . It turned out later that there were several dangerous people nearby .
Agencies need to recognize that all these new responsibilities , new policies , new training , and new tools are overwhelming officers and hindering their ability to respond effectively , said Dave Blake , who spent 16 years in law enforcement before retiring from the Livermore PD in California . After retiring , he earned a master ’ s degree in psychology and started his own police practices consulting and training business focusing on use-of-force and the science of human performance .
“ Officers are suffering from cognitive overload because they need to know all these policies and procedures and understand their practical application . They also need to develop new skillsets to use all this equipment correctly ,” he said .
IN SEARCH OF A SOLUTION
With more and more responsibilities to handle , being a police officer today is more stressful than it ’ s ever been . Add in the high levels of pressure that come with the job and it ’ s no wonder officers feel overwhelmed and make poor split-second decisions .
Blake thinks officers need to do more training in highstress situations . “ Situations do not often go as well as they do in training . If officers conduct training in an environment that is more in line with real-world events , they will be more successful ,” he said . “ Officers need to learn how to deescalate their own stress and allow themselves more time to observe and react .”
He also advocates initiating training programs that return to fundamentals . “ With all this new training and equipment initiatives , basic officer skillsets keep getting reduced ,” he said . Reality-based or simulated training with an emphasis on real-life scenarios and practical exercises could go a long way toward instilling confidence and decision-making skills in officers today . Law enforcement managers should determine what equipment and tactics are most appropriate for their individual agencies , and then focus training on those . ■

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WINTER 2016 | California Police Chief 13