Training Safety Officer Program Reduces Risk, Injuries

Training Safety Officer Program Reduces Risk, Injuries

Hands-on, facilitation-style training has been proven to be an effective form of adult-based learning. But the more hands on officers get during training, the more risks are involved for injuries.

One Minnesota group, though, has developed a program that incorporates safety measures into training without watering down the course’s intended content. Robert Boe, a 29-year law enforcement veteran and public safety project coordinator for the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust, recently presented the Training Safety Officer program at the Department of Criminal Justice Training in conjunction with the Kentucky League of Cities. 

“This program is responsible for cutting training injuries across the country,” said Department of Criminal Justice Training Commissioner Mark Filburn. “You’re going to hear me talk about the safety of officers and keeping them off the [memorial] wall. But here’s the training aspect of that, too. I don’t want any of my instructors hurt. I don’t want any instructors around the state hurt. That’s the key thing we are going to do as instructors — make sure the people in our classes are safe and we are safe.”

In Minnesota, as training transitioned to become more realistic, physical and scenario-based, Boe said statistics showed that training injuries rose from about 10 percent to 20 percent of the workers’ compensation costs over a four-year period. In response, LMCIT launched the training safety officer initiative in an effort to bring those injury numbers back down. 

During the DOCJT course, Boe discussed elements of the program along with the successes he has seen through a reduction of injuries when law enforcement trainers have implemented the TSO program.

“‘I can see what’s coming,’” Boe said. “When have you said that? For some of you, you may play sports and sometimes you can see a pattern in a play you have seen many times before, because you’re observing the human behavior in that pattern. You can predict with some reliability what’s going to happen.”

The phrase, “I can see what’s coming,” was uttered by one of the first officers involved in testing the initiative, Boe said, and has been spoken many times since. A sergeant who was serving as the training safety officer was observing from the back of the room and, 35 minutes into class was “bored silly,” Boe said. But about 5 minutes later, he spoke up and said, “I can see what’s coming.”

Two officers in the back of the room were not doing what they were supposed to do and were starting to go “off script,” Boe said, activity he described as anything not in the lesson plan.

“Sgt. Brennan reacted by gesturing to the instructor and said, ‘We need to change partners, particularly the two people in the back of the room,’” Boe recalled. “Partners were changed and they went on without an incident. That moment is when the light bulb really went on, because Sgt. Brennan had figured out how to get ahead of a training accident and not allow it to happen.”

To get ahead of a training accident using the TSO program involves six steps.

Have a planning meeting: Talk about the lesson plan. Are the students training or testing? What does the testing look like in the defensive tactics room? What are the safety risks? What does off-script behavior look like? 

Develop a safety plan: Document concerns, available personal protective equipment, consider weather and site-specific concerns. Consider the safety of any role players and an EMS plan if injuries occur. 

“When you have to care for one of our own, sometimes we have a hard time responding to our own emergencies,” Boe said. “You need a plan to get quick attention to the injured.”

Conduct a site inspection and setup the training space: Look at what you have to work with and consider how it can be made safer. Ensure that you have the necessary permissions for the acquired site, conduct an inspection and make sure it is appropriate for use. At the shooting range, for example, make sure you have a well-stocked trauma kit. When officers arrive, triple check their weapons.

Have a safety briefing: Wear a safety vest during the briefing.

“Some people are slow to realize the importance of wearing a vest during the safety briefing,” Boe said. “It is a constant safety reminder during training.”

Instruct the students about the words they should use to stop the training if necessary, explain the importance of not going off script and what precautions you have taken to make the room safe for the training. Provide details about the location of emergency and first-aid equipment.

Observation and role players: Bring students to the front of the class who may show signs of taking the training less seriously. Assign someone to watch for citizens and reporters who may show up on scene. Understand the tendency of role players to go off script after repeating an activity multiple times. Observe the opportunities for risk toward the end of the training when students are tired or unfocused.

After-action review: Document what happened and the lessons learned. Understand the importance of the “look of extreme fatigue.” Conduct an honest assessment of the class and how everyone is doing. What was the quality of the training? 

“Scenario-based training is here to stay because it works,” Boe wrote in an article about the program. “But as realism and stress are added to training environments, risk of injury (even death) increases. A TSO program is not about watering down effective law enforcement training. It is about using all of the controls reasonably available in a training environment to deliver that training safely. It costs only some extra time and effort — clearly a bargain when compared to the full cost of training injuries.”

To learn more about the TSO program, contact Robert Boe

Photo by Jim Robertson

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