You may be wondering why I am advocating teaching management, not leadership and why I am advocating to teach these skills starting at the Academy. I am an advocate of teaching leadership starting at the Academy as well, but there is a very good reason I advocate teaching Management skills. The reason is because a lack of skills in Stress Management, Fatigue Management, Financial Management are impacting the health and learning of recruits in the Academy and reeking havoc with the health and well being of experienced law enforcement professionals across North America.
Law enforcement professionals are exposed to both acute stress and chronic stress on a regular basis. This is true of the academy as well as out on the street. The academy is a stressful time for many recruits. They know they need to be successful is passing a wide range of theory and practical components. Many have limited exposure to subject control tactics, firearms, intermediate weapons, criminal law, provincial / state law, decision making in time pressure and high stakes environments, conducting traffic stops, emergency response driving, tactical combat casualty care, tactical communications and dealing with suicidal individuals and with the mentally ill. For most people coming into the profession their only frame of reference for the use of force and the realities of the law enforcement profession comes from television and the movies. Many have never really confronted the reality that they may have to take a life to save their own life or the life of someone else. This is not just for “the new generation”, it has been the reality for most recruits for decades.
Once they graduate from the academy they will continue to be exposed to the acute stress of the unknown nature of calls, dealing with violence directed at them, dealing with the trauma inflicted upon innocent people in the community and potentially making life and death decisions. They are also exposed to the potential chronic stress of internal politics, constant attacks in the media from special interest groups and cop haters, a lack of strong leadership in some organizations, perceived lack of support internally and externally, shift work, frustrations with the justice system, law suits, the perception of constant scrutiny and a host of other factors.
Without the tools and strategies to manage both acute and chronic stress, law enforcement professionals can suffer severe consequences to their physical, emotional and mental health as well and a negative impact on their personal and professional relationships.
As a profession we need to teach stress management skills early and often. It is not enough to do one class in the academy and never talk about it again. It needs to be delivered in small chunks throughout basic training, the FTO / PTO phase and at in-service training throughout officers careers.
The first thing to teach, and possibly the most important tool to continually reinforce is breathing. Breathing is the simplest, fastest and easiest tool they have to manage stress. As Victor Frankl said, “There is a pause between stimulus and response.” Teach them to breathe to take advantage of that pause. Teach them to breathe during control tactics training, firearms training, EVOC training, in the classroom, before the exam and before, during and after every scenario. Teach them to breathe on the way to the call, at the call, after the call. Teach them to breathe before the promotional interview, before they get on the stand to testify and before they answer that aggressive question from the defence attorney. Teach them to breathe on the way home from work and when their spouse or children do something to frustrate or upset them.
Breathing needs to be taught from at start of the academy and reinforced throughout the academy and throughout the FTO / PTO phase. It then needs to be reinforced at roll call training and even in-service training so it becomes a habit.
More agencies are now incorporating mindfulness practice and yoga into their training as wellness and stress management strategies. Physical activity is also an effective stress management strategy. Teach them the benefits of exercise throughout their career and how to incorporate an effective fitness practice into the realities of life as a law enforcement professional who works shifts and has limited time to work out due to family commitments, court, overtime and all the other realities of life.
I wrote about the importance of teaching ‘Landing Skills’ from Day 1 in a previous post. We cannot afford to wait until someone is struggling. We need to teach Landing Skills and Stress Management Skills from the start and then continually reinforce the message.
Week 1 of the Academy is not the time to focus on stressing new recruits out, it is the time to teach stress management skills that will help them throughout the rest of their careers and their lives.
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