The state of Georgia requires every mandated peace officer to have a certain number of training hours each year to retain their mandate status. My boss requires me and my co-workers to have double the training hours the state requires. That says a lot about his commitment to me and my co-workers. That also speaks volumes for his commitment to our community.
Recently, we received four hours of “high risk traffic stop” training. That name implies there is such a thing as a “low risk” traffic stop. There is no such thing. There are “high risk” traffic stops, and there are “unknown risk” traffic stops. Walking up to a vehicle which could be occupied by a violent felon is never “low-risk.”
Our training department spends hours upon hours researching the latest and most effective ways of policing. They present us with different scenarios in as realistic a setting as possible. Our four-hour training block began two hours before the sun set. That gave us two hours of scenarios with daylight and two hours of scenarios in the dark. If it was raining the day we were set to train, we would have learned how to clear a car in the rain.
My first scenario was stopping a vehicle which turned out to be stolen and recently used in an armed robbery. This is not a farfetched scenario.
I initiated the traffic stop and had the driver get out of the car. I purposely didn’t watch any training videos beforehand. I wanted to use this training as a chance to test my instincts. Any mistakes I made would be mistakes I instinctively made. Not mistakes I made by trying to remember something I watched in a video.
In this one scenario, I learned a better way to handcuff. I learned a better way to clear a vehicle. I learned when there is someone hiding in the backseat of a stolen car used in an armed robbery. I may or may not use some words my mama didn’t teach me when telling that person to show me some hands.
I didn’t know the lady I handcuffed in that first scenario. For over four hours that night she let us scream her out of a car. She was made to lie down on cold asphalt and was handcuffed over and over. She was crammed into the back of a patrol car countless times. I like to think I am a pretty gentle when I handcuff someone. I guess I will know when that lady sends out her Christmas cards later this year.
She was one of several role players we had out there that night. These people came on their own time. They were yelled at, pulled out of cars, and handcuffed for over four hours.
In-the-field training can only be as good as the role players make it. Because of these role players, our trainers are able to introduce as much stress to us as they possibly can. “Your body cannot go where your mind has not already been.” I don’t know who said that, someone much smarter than me I’m sure.
Training is meant to be as realistic and stressful as humanly possible. So when we are in a real life situation we will have a past experience to draw on. I am thankful I work for people who want me to receive top-level training.
I am equally thankful I live and work in a community with people who will give up a week night and let me yell at them so I will be able to come home to my family after real-life “high risk” traffic stops.
(Toby Nix is a local deputy sheriff and writer.)