Breathing has been a topic talked about in law enforcement training for decades. It is called Autogenic Breathing, Tactical Breathing, Combat Breathing, Box Breathing and probably a host of other names. This breathing is usually a version of inhale to a 4 count, hold for a 4 count, exhale to a 4 count, hold for a 4 count and repeat.
This type of breathing is the easiest way to counter the physiological effects of stress, reduce the heart rate and get back to a level of arousal where the officer / operator can function more effectively. This is a simple and powerful tool for all law enforcement and public safety professionals.
The question for you is, “Are you actually teaching this system of breathing, or just talking about it.”
By teaching I do not mean explaining the breathing pattern, and its benefits, and then having people practice it a few times in class. That is a great place to start, but you are simply exposing them to the technique, not teaching it. If you are going to teach it you need to weave it into every element of training and actually anchor it to predictable times, events and actions in order to make it a habitual response.
How do you weave it into recruit training and engrain it as a habitual behaviour? Here are some ideas:
- The first week of training take the recruits out to a patrol car and show them where the emergency equipment controls are. Allow them to sit in actual patrol vehicles and practice a few times actually reaching over and turning on the overhead lights and siren. Let them experience what a siren sounds like from inside the vehicle(s). If the size of your recruit classes make this logistically impossible then at least show them pictures of the inside of a patrol car and where the emergency equipment controls are and have them go through the process of activating them in their mind.
- Take the recruits back in to the classroom and have them close their eyes and imagine they have just been dispatched to an emergency call. Have them imagine reaching down and activating the lights and siren. As soon as they reach to activate the emergency equipment have them start the breathing cycle. The instructor can activate an audio file with the sound of a siren as the recruits imagine activating the emergency equipment. Practice this a few times then move on with the next topic of instruction.
- Provide every trainer in the academy with an audio file of a siren. Have every instructor at least once a day take a couple of minutes during their instructional block and take the recruits through that same exercise where they imagine receiving an emergency call and reach down to activate the emergency equipment. Have the instructor activate the audio file with the sound of the siren as the recruits imagine activating it. Have the recruits focus on their breathing and notice the calming effect of the breathing as they safely, smoothly and efficiently respond to the call. After 2 to 3 minutes the instructor can end the exercise and resume their block of instruction.
- On the range forearms instructors need to ensure the recruits are practicing their breathing after a string of fire that represents being in a shooting. While they are scanning, make sure they are breathing.
- In Control Tactics (defensive tactics) have the recruits practice their breathing after being in a physical altercation and establishing control of the subject. Have them scan for other threats and breathe.
- As the training progresses you can add audio of dispatched calls to the practice in the classrooms. They can be calls of shots fired, an active killer, or an officer needs help. The instructor stops their class and plays the audio of the dispatched call. They have the officers start to breathe as they imagine reaching over and activating their emergency equipment. They notice how calm, focused, in control they are as they maintain awareness of vehicle and pedestrian traffic and radio communications. They are calm when they communicate on the radio, as well as with their partner in the car and they are formulating plans for getting to the call quickly and safely as well as possible actions at the call. Every instructor can do this once per day for about 3 to 5 minutes.
- During scenario training have the recruits breathe before they go into the scenario. Have them breathe as soon as it is over, before you start the debrief.
- During they EVOC training continually reinforce the importance of breathing and have them breathe prior to and during exercises.
- Teach your FTOs / PTOs to continually communicate with the recruits during emergency response runs to “breathe” and after the call again tell them to “breathe”.
- Teach your incident commanders that when they hear in an officer’s voice that they are jacked up to tell the officer, “Take a breath and tell me ………..” “Now take another breath and tell me …….” You can build this into your pursuit training as well so when officers are calling in a pursuit, that is what they hear from the incident commander over the radio.
This will take a bit of work up front as well as require coordination, communication and commitment from all of the training staff. Breathing is not the domain of any one instructor, or group of instructors, it is the responsibility of all instructors. Once the up front work is done it only take a few minutes every day from each of the trainers to weave it into their block of instruction. For those who would argue that you cannot afford to take time out of your classes to do this, I would suggest that you can no longer afford not to make the time. You owe it to the people you have the honour and privilege of training to take 5 minutes out of your instructional day to teach officers this critical skill. It may save their career. It may save their life.
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