Law enforcement encounter a variety of individuals during their careers. While substance use and mental illness are discussed and trained for, there are also certain medical conditions and diseases that can affect normal communication. These conditions and diseases must also be taught to officers to prepare them to help any and every individual in their community.
For example, neurocognitive disorders (NCD’s) affect memory, understanding, task performance and much more1. The most overwhelmingly common NCD is Alzheimer’s Disease, and in the past all NCD’s were classified as dementia, when in fact there are multiple types and levels. NCD’s are typically associated with the elderly since it is most prevalent in people 65 years of age are older, but it is not exclusive to this age group.
The way NCD’s work is by causing damage to brain cells. The damage gradually makes symptoms more and more noticeable over time. Sometimes it is not immediately apparent that someone has an NCD – at times it takes a few moments for signs to appear. In general, symptoms law enforcement officers may notice and want to look out for include:
Some of these symptoms do not always reflect Alzheimer’s or other similar diseases, but also traumatic brain injury or substance abuse. Law enforcement officers must also be aware that those with NCD’s have the possibility of becoming verbally or physically aggressive.
Officers can strategically communicate with those who have NCD’s by doing the following2:
‘Neurocognitive Disorders’ is a section of VirTra’s “Mental Illness” curriculum. With a 12-page instructor guide, slideshow presentation and testing materials, law enforcement instructors can familiarize trainees with dementia and NCD’s. The coursework is designed to be used alongside simulated scenarios to allow ‘learning by doing.’
The entire “Mental Illness” set of V-VICTA® curriculum contains 15 hours of detailed coursework certified by IADLEST. To learn about how V-VICTA can be incorporated into your department’s training, contact a specialist.
As science discovers more about autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it becomes clearer how to communicate with autistic individuals. Because of a lack of knowledge of their unique communication needs, there have been unfortunate events in the past involving police officers and the autistic community. To reduce these incidents and ensure trust between the autistic community and law enforcement, steps have been taken to educate officers.
Law enforcement agencies around the United States are beginning to take advantage of various educational resources to understand ASD. One of the methods is through VirTra’s V-VICTA™ curriculum titled “Autism Awareness.” This 2-hour course — a collaboration between VirTra and Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) — includes scenarios and video walkthroughs. The goal is teaching law enforcement officers how to recognize the signs of autism and communicate appropriately.
An example of a successful approach was done by Utah Attorney General’s Office (UAG), who inspired Utah agencies to adopt the Autism Awareness training program. They have recently won the Best of State award for their Virtual Reality Training Center and the lessons officers learn from it – from Autism Awareness to de-escalation and use-of-force tactics. The framed award is pictured below.
Additionally, in September 2021, UAG Sean Reyes was awarded with the First Annual Autism Award for their efforts in making the community a safer place. As its name suggests, it was the first award of its kind and was awarded to UAG due to the impact they have made in educating law enforcement members about autism.
Some of the tips that officers can learn through VirTra’s Autism Awareness coursework includes recognizing the signs, making sure communication is clear and ensuring the person is comfortable during the encounter. It is no question that law enforcement around the country want to create a good relationship with the public, including those with special needs. Using the coursework’s tests, training manual, presentations and more, the goal is to maintain trust with the community.
To learn more about how VirTra can help law enforcement better understand ASD, contact a product specialist.
How a person learns evolves over time, yet simultaneously stays the same. Learning is also complicated, yet one of the simplest concepts to understand. And though learning is both easy and difficult, it is up to instructors to understand its nuances and create the best learning environment for their trainees.
In creating the best learning environment, instructors can rely on the social learning theory described by Albert Bandura. It describes how people learn socially through observing, modeling, then imitating the behavior and reactions of those around us. Or simply: monkey see, monkey do. It can also be from the perspective, “Don’t do what that monkey did!”
For a moment, think of a child. How do they learn how to act, move, communicate, the ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs,’ and the rules of life? It is all learned through observation. Children follow their models, which often begins with parents and siblings and later branches out to friends, teachers, book and TV characters and so forth. After observation comes action, where children mimic the learned behaviors. Depending on if the behavior is met with a punishment or a reward, the behavior is then reinforced or discarded.
As children grow up, so does their form of learning. Now, observational learning comes with an extra step: thought before action. This new consideration helps people to improve themselves, as they think through possible outcomes rather than immediately imitating a presented behavior. After determining and performing the best course of action, they then become a model for others—bringing the social learning theory full circle.
While officers are full-grown adults, and not the children in this example, social learning theory still applies to training. Starting at the beginning, the V-VICTA™ curriculum my team and I create heavily promotes observation. It is recommended to have one officer complete a skill drill or training scenario with the rest of the class watching using a rubric for evaluation. Depending on how the first officer performed, those watching know which actions are important, which actions to mimic, which to avoid and overall, how to create a better outcome. While the first few officers may stumble and err, the remaining officers improve techniques and together everyone learns. This allows for larger numbers of officers to obtain high quality training with great time management.
Throughout this training, instructors act as the ‘parents’ or the ‘prime’, so to speak. It is the instructor’s job to reward positive actions or ‘punish’ potentially dangerous actions—either praising the behavior, describing the error in debrief or immediately providing a real-life consequence, such as an electric shock delivered by a Threat-Fire® device. Training after this manner helps reinforce correct training and make these lessons second-nature once officers are in the field.
Learning can be either complicated or simple; it all depends on how instructors approach the task. Creating an environment that places a heavier emphasis on observation before performing—our earliest form of learning—could be the greatest asset in your classroom.
Lon Bartel spent 20 years as an officer, where he spent 12 of those years as a Rangemaster and 18 years as a certified law enforcement trainer. Now, as an IADLEST Nationally Certified Instructor and Force Science certified Use of Force Analyst and Advanced Specialist, Lon works to create powerful training curriculum for law enforcement.
Bandura, Albert. “Social-Learning Theory of Identificatory Processes.” Handbook of Socialization Theory and Research, Rand McNally & Company, 1969.
McLeod, S. A. (2016, February 05). Bandura – social learning theory. Simply Psychology.
Suicide by cop, often abbreviated to SBC, is an event that has two victims: the suicidal subject and the officer. These calls are incredibly difficult for everyone involved and officers must be prepared to handle any outcome. At the end of the day, law enforcement are forced with two major situations: maintaining safety and trying to de-escalate the subject.
SBC occurs when a suicidal individual engages in criminal behavior in an attempt to elicit lethal use of force from law enforcement. A 2019 article by The Washington Post estimates that about 100 fatal police shootings per year are SBC events. While occasionally some SBC subjects are armed with a firearm, many times they possess a knife or feign weapon possession.
There are different strategies used by individuals attempting SBC. Some of them plan ahead and orchestrate the situation while others occur due to a minor event that became escalated. For an integrated response, officers must take each call seriously and secure the scene appropriately. Only after can they determine the main problem and assess the risk of suicidality.
There are ways to talk a subject down and possibly prevent escalation:
While it may seem like common knowledge, it must be remembered that a person attempting SBC is suffering from a mental illness or experiencing some type of crisis. De-escalation and crisis de-escalation training can be of great assistance during SBC calls.
VirTra offers multiple scenarios as well as V-VICTA™ NCP-certified curriculum to help officers prepare for harrowing calls. These are designed by VirTra’s subject matter experts and certified by IADLEST to ensure knowledge takeaway. Some courses that focus on SBC and related situations include De-Escalation, Crisis De-Escalation and Mental Illness.
To allow your agency to experience a higher standard in training, contact a product specialist.
It sounds like a simple concept – one officer is a contact officer and another is the cover officer. The truth is, these concepts and principles arose from a number of unfortunate incidents in law enforcement where the contact and cover roles were blurred or even non-existent. Each officer has a role and responsibilities that are vital to safety and must be understood.
A tragic event in 1984 laid the groundwork for contact and cover principles. Officers Timothy Ruopp and Kimberly Tonahill of San Diego PD lost their lives on duty when apprehending two subjects for a misdemeanor charge. While Ruopp was writing the subjects a citation, Tonahill began conducting a Terry Frisk on one subject who overpowered her and shot both officers with a handgun. What went wrong? The contact officer, Tonahill, was not being observed or protected since Ruopp was focused on writing the citations.
A contact officer must:
The cover officer must:
It is important to reiterate that role switching is acceptable, but blurring the roles is not. Teamwork is mandatory and effective communication between officers, to subjects and to dispatch is imperative. Officers must monitor and maintain proper positioning and appropriate distancing. At times, subjects may need to be moved to help the cover officer observe.
All of these points and many more are mentioned in the Contact and Cover Concepts V-VICTA™ curriculum. This course is 3 hours of NCP certified material certified by IADLEST. Like other V-VICTA curriculum, Contact and Cover Concepts includes a training manual, associated simulator scenarios, a presentation, testing materials and more.
To learn how to incorporate Contact and Cover Concepts and the vital principles covered within the curriculum, contact a product specialist.
Are you familiar with the phrase “do as I say, not as I do?”
While this phrase may be heard among parents raising children, it should not be used in officer training. It is well known that teaching by example is one of the most powerful forms of training, not hypocrisy among one’s own instruction. After all, instruction that does not reflect one’s action can cause confusion—something you don’t want among those sworn to protect our communities.
Training must be as realistic as possible for skill building, skill transfer to the field and maximum safety of our officers and nation.
More than training by example, the principle of realistic training also encompasses training tools and accessories. If you were to perform a Google search for law enforcement training, you would receive a medley of training options on the market: simulation, virtual reality (VR), Force-on-Force, various classroom instruction and so forth.
Having a variety of training selections—especially with different price ranges, sizes and department customization options—is beneficial. But which of these options are actually cost-effective and realistic, and how does your department determine this?
The biggest indicator of a training option’s realism is how it compares to life in the field. As such, officers must be equipped with all of the accessories they normally have on their belt, must be immersed physically and psychologically, experience stress and practice engaging in challenging situations.
While simplified, the list creates categories for departments to compare each training option against. For example: Does it allow officers to train utilizing the entire toolbelt? Does it immerse officers physically and psychologically? Does it cause stress by portraying challenging situations? Fortunately, VirTra’s judgmental use of force and de-escalation simulations allow departments to check “yes” next to each question.
How about VR? This one is a bit more difficult, as it depends on the specific VR product, what accessories each individual company produces, etc. Some companies have tethered accessories and/or produce video game-like visuals. Both of these make achieving physical and psychological fidelity difficult to achieve, meaning learning is less likely to occur.
As an instructor, it is your job to ensure officers are provided the most realistic training possible. When searching for a new training option, decide the most critical components needed in training before checking out companies. After, compare each company’s products to your list of needs. If possible, find a way to test their training scenarios for yourself and see if it initiates appropriate levels of body alarm response in yourself and your cadre.
If you would be interested in learning more about VirTra, or participating in a demonstration, contact a representative.
Training should be challenging. Period.
Easy training does not teach individuals, it does not force them to learn, grow, mess up and learn from mistakes. Instead, training needs to be as challenging as it is encompassing of many different topics. For police, this includes a wider variety of topics and the important nature of these subjects.
One critical lesson is verbal de-escalation.
Verbal de-escalation is more complex than the public may imagine, as it is considerably more than simply asking subjects if they are okay, how they can help or if they are willing to remain calm. Instead, the correct dialogue depends on the situation, subject, the subject’s state of mind and even the tone the officer uses.
Tone is an important part of verbal de-escalation, though it isn’t discussed much. Imagine a situation where a subject is debating whether or not to end their life by jumping off a bridge. As the first responder, it is your job to talk them down—literally and figuratively.
What an officer chooses to say is magnified by the tone they use. In this situation, if an officer injected heavy amounts of false sympathy in their voice, the suicidal subject might see this as mistrust or mockery. Or if an officer used the proper phrases with little to no feeling, the subject could interpret it as sarcasm or lack of concern. Tone can greatly improve a situation or cause it to devolve—fast.
This is where VirTra’s training simulators make a difference in the classroom. Instructors can program the simulator to run scenarios ranging from high-stake situations to mental illness interactions. Trainees can engage the subjects and attempt to defuse the situation using known de-escalation techniques, or opt for less lethal or lethal options as a last resort.
If an officer is attempting to build a rapport with the subject, instructors can choose to reward the student’s behavior and de-escalate the scenario. However, if an officer’s words or tone are too aggressive, the instructor can choose an escalating branch built within the scenario to show the trainee the consequences.
An officer’s verbal ability is another tool on their toolbelt and can mean the difference between having to fight a subject or talking him into a set of handcuffs peacefully. By training your department in proper de-escalation techniques with VirTra you can potentially decrease police use of force incidents.
If you have any questions or would like a demonstration, contact a VirTra representative.
“Bridge Baby” is one of VirTra’s most difficult scenarios, as a simple mistake performed by an officer could quickly result in the death of a child or the subject.
The premise of the scenario is simple. Officers are dispatched to a bridge where a distraught father is threatening to throw his baby over the side. However, getting the upset father to set down his child, to calm down and listen to officer instructions is the difficult part. Depending on the officer’s actions, the father will comply with the officer, throw the child over the edge, commit suicide or shoot at the officer.
A difficult situation, yes, but an excellent one in teaching the power of verbal de-escalation.
For Sgt. Nick Shephard, Volusia County PD, he speaks calmly and gently to the subject in the scenario, “Absolutely, I care. Nothing more I care about right now than you, trust me.” As a result, the scenario branches and the man sets his child safely on the ground, then submits to being arrested.
What is remarkable about this story is how an increase in de-escalation training, as Sheriff Mike Chitwood credits, has produced a decline in police use of force incidents within their county. Sheriff Chitwood requires all new officers to engage in 40 hours of crisis intervention classes, which heavily promotes de-escalation while reducing “warrior mentality”. This program includes running officers through the VirTra system, practicing de-escalating each scenario by engaging in various tactics.
Another remarkable element of the story is how this change was inspired by Sheriff Chitwood’s trip to Scotland in 2015, where he saw and has since implemented new strategies to minimize the need for less lethal and lethal force in Tulliallan Castle, Police Scotland’s training center and headquarters. Now, years later with national cries for increased de-escalation training, Sheriff Chitwood’s officers are already armed with this increased knowledge.
Since implementing these changes, as this article states, “from 2017 to 2019, as the number of calls to authorities remained steady…the recorded frequency of Volusia deputies’ using force fell by nearly half, from 122 annual incidents to 65.”
De-escalation training must be a critical component to any department’s training regimen. VirTra understands this and has created training simulators and curriculum that teach not only de-escalation, but also marksmanship, less lethal, skill drills and other critical skills—thus rounding out any officer’s training.
Earlier this year, VirTra submitted and received certification on the curriculum “Mental Illness: A Practical Approach.” This curriculum covers the signs and symptoms associated with different mental illnesses as well as communication and intervention techniques. Most importantly, officers will learn how respond to the specific behaviors a person displays instead of focusing on the mental illness itself. People should be treated as individuals and not as their diagnosis.
One of the mental illnesses covered in the curriculum is Schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that affects about 1% of the national population. Schizophrenia can interfere with a person’s ability to think clearly, make decisions, manage emotions and relate to others. The severity of unmanaged schizophrenia can be extremely debilitating and disabling.
Depending on the severity of the schizophrenia, an individual may experience hallucinations or delusions. Hallucinations are false perceptions and experiences absent certain stimuli and can manifest as visual, auditory, olfactory or tactile. Delusions are false beliefs that conflict with reality. Hallucinations and delusions are common with schizophrenia, but that does not mean that person has a schizophrenia diagnosis.
A person with schizophrenia may also experience psychosis. Psychosis describes a condition where an individual has lost touch with reality, usually aligned with severe disturbances in behavior, cognitive processing and emotional regulation. The disturbance in perception makes it challenging for an individual to determine what is real and what is not. This can be especially challenging for officers.
Instead of focusing on a diagnosis, officers will learn to respond to the behaviors and clarity in thought process an person exhibits at the time of contact. This allows officers to coordinate an intervention response that is as safe and effective as possible for everyone involved. Each section of VirTra’s “Mental Illness: A Practical Approach” goes further in-depth in recognition of signs and symptoms as well as effective and safe intervention techniques.
For each curriculum, instructors are given slide presentations, booklets, pre- and post-tests, evaluation forms and simulator scenarios. This allows officers to learn the material in the classroom, then implement their new training in a real-life situation displayed in the simulator. Training in this manner ensures officers are well-rounded and skills are easily transferred to the field.
VirTra’s “Mental Illness: A Practical Approach” is part of V-VICTA, is NCP certified and meets rigorous quality training standards for the curriculum. This includes extensive research, citations, correct knowledge retention format, comprehensive testing materials and more.
Nicole Florisi started her public safety career in 1999 as a communication specialist. In 2002, she became a certified peace officer for the state of Arizona. She has been a law enforcement trainer and instructor for the past 15 years. Her areas of expertise are in crisis intervention and de-escalation, crisis negotiations, child abduction response, domestic violence, and human trafficking. She was also a Drug Recognition Expert and Instructor, Standardized Field Sobriety Test Instructor, and forensic phlebotomist. Nicole was the lead negotiator for the regional SWAT team for 12 years.
Mental Illness training is no longer important knowledge: it is crucial knowledge.
Now more than ever, officers must know how to properly recognize and interact with every member of their community. VirTra makes teaching this curriculum easy and effective by providing instructors with 15 hours of nationally-certified training material and professionally filmed simulation training scenarios.
Our Mental Illness Training: A Practical Approach curriculum includes training manuals, slide presentations, pre and post-tests, evaluations and real-life scenarios to help instructors teach the concept in the classroom, then cement the teachings by practicing the concepts in a simulator.
This training also includes interviews with individuals that have experienced mental illness and what they feel law enforcement should know from their perspective. These insightful videos are critical in helping with empathy and understanding.
Through this curriculum, officers learn to recognize a variety of mental illness symptoms—including depression, suicide, anxiety, trauma, PTSD and schizophrenia—and communicate and engage in the proper techniques for the situation.
Learn more about our Mental Illness training here.
Or watch officers engage in real Mental Illness scenarios below:
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