Playing Well With Others

National security concerns about terrorist attacks may be the motivator, but joint training exercises will yield tangible benefits every day on the street.

When you call for backup, do you sometimes get an officer from another agency? Do you ever respond to calls that also involve the fire department or EMS? Have you ever assisted a probation or parole officer with taking a client into custody? Have you ever turned a prisoner over to a corrections officer at the jail? If you answered "no" to all of these, you can stop reading right now (and explain to your chief why you have been sleeping on duty). If you answered "yes" to one or more, here's another question: do you and your colleagues from other agencies ever train together?

If you're like most of us, you probably don't. You may attend training courses with officers from other departments, and you may even have regional or county-wide in-service training, but I would bet that you don't really try to mesh policies, response tactics, and scene management protocols even with other law enforcement agencies, much less fire and EMS. And whoever heard of training with probation officers?

The events of 9-11 made us painfully aware of our inability to communicate with one another--the crazy-quilt of incompatible radio frequencies and different 10-codes led to a push for "interoperability" and mandated training in the National Incident Management System (NIMS). But plain-English radio traffic and a common vocabulary are just the beginnings of working smoothly together. National security concerns about terrorist attacks may be the motivator, but joint training exercises will yield tangible benefits every day on the street. Too often, we find ourselves working at cross purposes with other agencies or--worse--fighting over turf. Training together will help us recognize each other's strengths and better understand our different missions. In fact, cross-training in the emergency services may well be the wave of the future. I know of at least one city in which emergency services have been combined, with employees having multiple certifications as law enforcement officers, firefighters, and paramedics.

One of the best ways to do joint training is to develop scenario-based exercises. These need not be huge, elaborate "disaster drills" that involve a cast of thousands. In fact, it's a good idea to start small. Why not team up with the fire station in your precinct to do a couple of scene management drills? For example, you could combine traffic crash investigation, first responder/EMS, and (for the firefighters) stabilization and extrication. Get the local salvage yard to drop a junked vehicle off at the training site and roll it on its side. VoilĂ ! It's a rollover with the occupant pinned inside. Officers responding have to call in the situation, protect the scene, manage traffic, control and interview witnesses--and resist the impulse to climb into the unstable car. Firefighters have to stabilize the vehicle, render first aid to the victim, and begin extrication procedures. EMS will have to package the "patient" (a dummy placed in the vehicle or a volunteer outside the vehicle) for transport and provide any additional treatment. Officers can then complete their investigation and fill out the paperwork.

For something even simpler, how about having law enforcement officers and probation/parole officers train together on taking a subject into custody? Participants can take turns being the subject who is "on paper." Police and probation/parole officers can practice verbal skills, handcuffing skills, and review the legal ramifications of police assists to probation/parole. (You may need to provide some instruction in proper handcuffing technique. A friend of mine who worked as a probation officer was issued handcuffs but was given no instruction whatever in how to use them. He didn't realize that if they close empty you don't need to use the key to open them--they just ratchet through. He tried to carry them open in his pocket so they'd be ready to use!)

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