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State police academy building guardians instead of warriors

Published On: Nov 19 2013 09:14:18 PM CST   Updated On: Nov 19 2013 09:16:12 PM CST
State police academy recruits
BURIEN, Wash. -

At the Criminal Justice Training Center in Burien, recruits from across the state train to become police officers, but earlier this year their training shifted from a militaristic warrior model to a peacemaker concept that seems more appropriate for Spokane neighborhoods.

The daily 7:30 a.m. flag ceremony at the academy in Burien is part of a long standing tradition. So is marching in formation. But after decades of training officers the same way we do our soldiers, Washington State wants to get away from the warrior model.

"If you start out looking for a fight you're probably going to get one," Training Center Director Sue Rahr said.

Rahr, a former King County Sheriff, was worried since warriors conquer people and ideally police protect them, it was time for a change.

"If you approach every situation as if you're going to ready to got to war you're likely to go to war," she said. "It seemed to me it would be more productive to deescalate first when ever they can."

At the training center you still see a lot of hands-on defensive tactics but recruits are spending a lot more time practicing their "verbal" judo.

"I think the guardian model is actually a good way of looking at how police are supposed to be officers. Again, it's not a fight every single time. We have to be able to tone it down or amp it up if we need to," Spokane Police recruit John Yen said.

Yen is one of four Spokane Police recruits scheduled to graduate in December. On this training day, in the padded rooms of a place called Mock City, Yen has to get a suicidal man to the hospital. While his classmates look on through one-way windows the officer learns the man on the couch has taken a fatal dose of his medication.

With diplomacy failing and time running out, Yen, who is about a hundred pounds shy of being able to muscle the man into the ambulance has to use finesse instead to subdue the man, trying to decide how much force they should use.

Mock City can be a frustrating wake up call for young officers about what skills they need to work on.

"It's much different as you saw today fighting someone who's moving around and giving a little bit of verbal resistance," Instructor Russ Hicks said. "What we typically see after we have a mock scene like this is we see a lot of people in the gym in the morning practicing, which is good right?"

Those extra hours spent in the gym are followed by even more time hitting the books and spending time in the classroom.

"I am Fred Graham, I am a detective with Tacoma Police Department, today we are going to start a two block on abuse investigations," Tacoma Police Detective Fred Graham said. "We're going to watch the aggravated assault of a baby."

Graham warns recruits the video made by a camera hidden near the child's crib is disturbing. The point blank violence shocks students but prepares them for keeping their emotions under control during future calls for service.

"Because if I contact you and you're angry and I get angry because your angry we're not solving any problems," Yen said.

Problem solving starts with respect; even desktop name tags remind recruits how to treat the people they serve.

"There are times when action needs to be take immediately and we're all about that here at the academy but one of the basic things we are teaching here, and model that, is showing people respect, just being cool with people," Hicks said.

Recruits are still learning how to drive fast and they spend a lot of time on the range learning firearms safety skills, but most of all the academy is trying to graduate guardians.  

"I think the officers we are turning out are going to be better prepared to assess situations that they find themselves in and I hope they have a broader range of tools to use," Rahr said.

Perhaps the most valuable tool will be the officer's integrity. Recruits are reminded of those values every time they walk on campus.

"Part of protecting and serving is not only protecting people from danger but also protecting their rights civilly, and I think that integrity walk keeps us in line about what we are here to do and why we are here to do it," Yen said.

Yen and three other Spokane recruits are expected to graduate in December. Once they return to Spokane they will spend several more months answering calls for service in the same car with a field training officer, who will make sure these rookies are truly ready for the job, and then they'll start earning their keep on the night shift.