A Consuming Passion
More than 80 instructors fill the classrooms at the Department of Criminal Justice Training, teaching fresh recruits and seasoned professionals everything from how to properly handcuff a suspect to how to handle the most frantic callers.
The professionals who share their wisdom and skills with students have wide and varied backgrounds. Their expertise and professionalism make DOCJT’s instructors among the highest caliber law enforcement and telecommunications trainers in the country.
Through this series, we will introduce you to the men and women who are leading the way today for a safer and better Kentucky tomorrow.
Brian Spencer, Defensive Tactics and Physical Training Instructor
AT A GLANCE...
Years Working with Law Enforcement: 17
Years at DOCJT: 3
Current Position: DOCJT Defensive Tactics and Physical Training Instructor
Education: BS criminal justice from EKU. Currently working on MBA at the University of the Cumberlands.
Favorite class taught: Currently teaching terrorism tactics. I like the class and it is relevant to law enforcement today. What I taught overseas has been extremely helpful in teaching the course.
Brian Spencer loves his job. Each day Spencer comes to work at the Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training, he is consumed with the passion of sharing his knowledge of physical fitness and defensive tactics to help every recruit he trains become the most fit-for-duty officers they can be.
“I enjoy helping people, and I also enjoy being outside,” Spencer said. “The excitement of the field and the ability to figure things out appealed to me.”
In 2000, Spencer began his policing career. He spent six years with the Richmond Police Department, where he served as a police training officer for three years.
In 2007, Spencer took his knowledge and skills to Afghanistan where he trained its police force for the Department of State – through DynCorp International and the United Kingdom-based Global International.
After seven years overseas, Spencer returned stateside to put his vast knowledge of physical fitness and defensive tactics to work for DOCJT, training law-enforcement recruits. Spencer said his time spent as an officer and overseas helped prepare him for his role as a DOCJT instructor.
“Being a [police training officer] was extremely helpful. I was only a [Richmond] training officer for three years, but I knew enough to help the young guys coming up,” Spencer said. “So being able to teach people was extremely important to me. My time as a police training officer at Richmond helped prepare me [for being] overseas, helping train the Afghans in their police procedures and tactics.”
As a physical training instructor, Spencer said the goal is to help recruits meet and exceed established standards.
“I try to get them up to standard, not to just pass the final test, but I want to get them as physically fit as possible before they leave the academy,” he said. “I also want to give them the knowledge base to where they can leave here and know what to do on their own.”
When a new academy class begins, Spencer said each recruit goes through an initial battery of physical tests to establish their fitness level. During the 23-week training, physical training instructors work with recruits to improve each individual’s fitness.
“We get people from all backgrounds,” he said. “We’ve had former professional athletes like NFL players to people who have never touched a weight in their life. So we have to take everybody up to their next level. Each person is different and each class is different. Sometimes, you have to augment the workouts for individual classes. One class might be good at running, but not as physically strong. Another class may be strong, but doesn’t do well running.”
Over the course of basic training, physical training instructors help each recruit progress through a three-phase system. Recruits start off at a base level and their fitness level progresses upward, with the end result being a fitter officer upon graduation. Spencer said DOCJT recently adjusted training to achieve maximum benefits for the recruits.
One of these adjustments includes adopting the HIIT program, which stands for high-intensity interval training, which involves high-intensity training in short spurts. Spencer noted, however, each individual is different, and training needs have to be adjusted to best fit the recruit.
“We try to push their cardiovascular effort level up to a high range, whether it be through running, weight lifting or some kind of calisthenics,” he said. “We alternate short periods of intense anaerobic exercise with less intense recovery periods. Research shows that it is a better way of training, especially for those in emergency services. We still have training for maximum strength, like the bench press, but adding HIIT training in our programming has given us better results for overall recruit fitness.”
In the field, Spencer said the combination of strength, speed and endurance plays off one another.
“It’s what [officers] have to have on the defensive tactics side,” he said. “They need speed to chase a suspect down and strength to make arrest afterward.”
To illustrate his point, Spencer shared a story from his time with the Richmond Police Department where his fitness level and defensive-tactics skills paid off.
“I was fortunate enough in 2007 to receive the U.S. District Attorney’s Copperhead Award,” Spencer said. “It was for catching a suspect who was a serial stalker and a pedophile. He was stalking little girls in the Hidden Hills subdivision. The call began as a tip about somebody who was suspicious in the area. Once I began working the case, I actually found and chased the suspect through the woods because he was running from me. The chase was about 300 or 400 meters. I started on one street and went through the woods and ended on another street deep in the neighborhood.”
Once apprehended, Spencer was able to interview the suspect and obtain a confession.
“He admitted to me what he did, and evidence was consistent with what he told me,” Spencer said. “He had homemade torture devices, he had a list of little girls who he’d been stalking, he’d been breaking into homes to steal medication and he told me he was just a few days away of going out in a ‘blaze of glory.’
Beyond physical training, defensive tactics is another area where Spencer excels. Fitness and defensive training are areas that appealed to him from an early age.
“I’ve always done something, whether it’s been wrestling, boxing or jiu-jitsu since I was younger,” he said. “I wrestled in high school, and I started getting more and more into jiu-jitsu when I became a police officer. When I was overseas, I was lucky enough to train with some of the guys who boxed and did jiu-jitsu.”
Defensive tactics is an ever-changing discipline, and police officers must be better trained to survive in today’s world, Spencer said.
“If you’re staying stagnate, you’re behind on what’s going on, and if you do that, it is deadly,” he said. “There are criminals out there right now who are training, especially now with the popularity of UFC. They’ll watch UFC and YouTube videos on how to fight and train inside their house or garage.”
Spencer said the only way officers can be ready for what awaits them is to constantly train themselves.
“When I began my policing career, we had very limited ground defense,” Spencer said. “Luckily, before I came [to DOCJT], they had already started the GAGE program, which is Ground Avoidance and Ground Evasion. Which is an excellent base for learning ground defense.”
Health and well-being
Spencer said physical training is crucial for the health and well-being of law enforcement officers, whether they are a new recruit or a 20-year veteran.
“Heart disease is a leading cause of death in law enforcement,” Spencer said bluntly. “That’s because of the nature of the job. A night can go from absolute boredom to a life-or-death situation in seconds. The unfortunate side effect of lack of sleep due to shift work, sitting for long periods of time, high levels of stress and not having access to healthy food choices, is the potential for weight gain. That’s a combination for bad health, and officers are dying young because of it.”
Often, it’s the cumulative effects of being a police officer Spencer said eventually take their toll on law enforcement officers.
“There are numerous studies concerning officers suffering from post-traumatic stress during their careers,” he said. “But being able to work out and stay physically fit helps you relieve that stress and gives you some control of what is going on in your life. As a police officer, oftentimes you’re trying to pick up the pieces when something violent has happened to someone, which is in itself extremely stressful; being able to relieve that stress through physical fitness is both cathartic and establishes healthy habits which help keep officers alive.”
Physical training goes beyond the ability to push a bunch of weights around or run great distances, Spencer pointed out. It’s the combination of both that will help officers do their jobs.
“I have to get them to the point where they can continue training after the academy which is good for both their physical and mental health,” he said. “It is a positive hobby that helps relieve stress and helps mental wellness, and that’s something a lot of people don’t think about.”
At the end of the grueling 23 weeks, Spencer’s goal boils down to this: “I want to make sure there are no more names that go up on the memorial wall as much as one can. I feel that’s what all of us here ultimately are trying to do.”