Back to Basics: A 17-year law enforcement veteran goes back to basic training
April 29, 2022
The good news this week is that I was given the “OK” from the orthopedic office to start putting some weight on my injured knee – only as much as I can tolerate, as long as it doesn’t cause pain greater than a five on a scale of one-to-10. I started crutching around with one crutch, and I am hopeful that my knee heals sooner rather than later. I have the follow-up appointment next week, and I hope to get a better idea of what the treatment regime will be to get my knee back to 100%. The running trails are calling my name! Wish me luck. At least for now I can do upper body and core exercises to stay in shape for the next academy.
This week our class started off with court testimony practical exercises. They used the information they learned and practiced last week to prepare their “case” for trial. On Monday afternoon the class went to one of the Circuit Court rooms at the Virginia Beach Courthouse and took the witness stand. Prosecutors from the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office served as the judge, prosecution and defense counsel. The “prosecutors” and “defense counsel” asked the recruits questions about their “case”. They had to be very precise and demonstrate they were knowledgeable of all aspects. If the recruit came to the “trial” unprepared, they would lose their case.
Thankfully, our class was well-versed and ready to go.
If being in the “hot seat” in court wasn’t enough, the recruits also got to experience the stress and frustration of directing traffic. After spending time in the classroom learning safe traffic management strategies, they donned their trendy neon safety vests so their skills could be put to the test. Their challenge: lunchtime traffic at Birdneck Road and 19th Street. In the warm months, this area gets even more congested with beach traffic and visitors. Sometimes there is a power outage, the lights aren’t functioning properly or there is a special event going on that requires manual direction of traffic. It can be a lot to handle, but the instructors said they did a great job, safely and effectively managing the intersection.
They finished off the week with Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training. CIT is a program designed to teach law enforcement about interacting with those suffering from mental illness. They watched a video with testimony from a former Virginia firefighter who started getting depressed in mid-life, and it spiraled into bipolar depression with psychotic tendencies. He described numerous psychotic episodes he experienced when he was not properly medicated and shared the regrets he feels for the violent and criminal behavior he participated in during those episodes. He emphasized how important it is for law enforcement to be careful around the mentally ill, for their safety and the safety of the person they’re trying to help. In a psychotic episode, they may see law enforcement as a threat and may hear voices telling them to hurt them (or themselves).
Afterward, the recruits got to experience what that’s like firsthand.
They participated in an exercise called “hearing voices” that helped them understand what someone having a psychotic break or schizophrenia may experience. They put on headphones playing audio of voices mumbling, giving orders and throwing insults to simulate what a mentally ill person may hear Then they had to complete various detail-oriented tasks while trying to tune out the voices: write out the words to the national anthem, solve math problems and complete everyday tasks that most people can do easily. Writing out all the lyrics to the national anthem may already be challenging for some folks, but imagine trying to do it with multiple voices going on in the background! I can tell you, it’s nearly impossible.
The recruits had different responses to these exercises. Some had difficulty tuning out the background noise, some got irritated, were disturbed by the content, and some were able to drown out the noise well enough to complete the tasks. This training will help the recruits when they encounter the mentally ill in the jail and in the public. What may appear to be a person ignoring your directions may actually be someone trying to tune out voices. They also understand that a mentally ill individual can become dangerous with no provocation and may not be able to be reasoned with.
This training came just in time for Mental Health Awareness Month, which starts May 1. Mental health is one of the most important challenges we face in public safety and is a top priority for Sheriff Ken Stolle. That’s why all our recruits complete three days of CIT training during the Basic Academy, and many go on to complete an advanced 40-hour course later in their career. The more training we have, the better equipped we are to safely respond to incidents involving people with mental illness.
I look forward to completing CIT training when I return to the academy as a recruit this fall. If you’d like to join us, the next application deadline for deputy recruits is May 9. You can find the details at vbso.net/sworn-positions.
Lastly, our class also reached a major milestone this week on the way to graduation: being issued their firearms! This is a big step. Only a few weeks left!
Photos by VBSO Public Information Officer Margie Hobbs