Power Up Policing with Improv – PT 2

Last month I made the case for training officers to be good improvisers. Here are some exercises to do just that -- and to help trainers and leaders do the same.

Previously on officer.com

Last month in Power Up Policing with Improv – PT 1 I made a case for training recruits and officers to be able to improvise and use both sides of their brains in scenario-based training and the street and provided one improvisational (“improv”) exercise to help them do that.

This month’s article provides more Improv Training (IT) for:

  • Powering up scenario-based training.
  • Powering up recruit and in-service classroom training.
  • Improving morale and performance at the station.

More IT for scenario-based training.

Scenario-based training for police is like scrimmaging for athletes – applying skills to practice the real thing. Before scrimmaging, however, athletes stretch and strength train. Improv Training (IT) is to scenario-based police training what stretching and strength training are to athletes’ scrimmaging.

Here’s a 3 to 6 minute improv exercise for groups of 8 to 100 that raises awareness of non-verbal behavior and could be used as a warm-up for scenario-based training. It’s from Kat Koppett’s book Training to Imagine – Practical Improvisational Theatre Techniques to Enhance Creativity, Teamwork. Leadership and Learning.

Exercise -- SAFETY ZONE


  • Tell each participant they are a citizen.
  • Ask each participant to look around the room and privately select one other person they will consider Person “A.”
  • Then have each participant privately select another person they will consider Person “B.”
  • Tell them that A is an assailant and B is an officer. The goal is to make sure the officer is between them and their assailant at all times.
  • Before people start to move, remind them that no one should get hurt. (This is about environmental and non-verbal behavior awareness, not tactical defense or offense.)
  • Play 2 or 3 rounds, choosing new assailants and officers each time.


As a final round, make each person play the role of the officer so that A remains the assailant but B becomes the citizen to be protected. Their job then is to stay between A and B.


  • This exercise results in a wild, swirling pattern. It’s more fun than it appears on paper.
  • The variation will result in a tight clump of people.

Suggested Debrief Questions:

  • What happened?
  • How did you feel at the beginning?
  • How did you feel when the crowd started moving?
  • What did you cue into?
  • What did you try to project non-verbally?
  • How did you feel at the end?

Power up your training with Improv.

In a typical classroom setting, participants usually sit, observe, and process what they hear. Training that incorporates improv will include: “Everyone, on your feet!”

Improv gets people doing; not just processing--and everyone must contribute for the class to be compelling. Improv can add an engaging power-punch to classroom training. We’ve all been flat-lined by a lecturing subject matter expert. By experiencing lessons instead of just hearing or observing them, participants acquire and retain learning better.

The best trainers aren’t just subject matter experts. They also have good performance skills, and the flexibility to sense their learners’ needs and respond to them in the moment. They can work “off the page.” That’s improv.

Improv exercises can:

  • Develop and enhance the creativity and communication skills of trainers.
  • Increase the effective delivery and retention of virtually any course content.

Regardless of your training topic, here’s an improv exercise to break the ice, to get your learners predisposed to have fun while they’re learning and to get them to think outside the box. It comes from Craig Zablocki’s book Improv 101: 101 Improvisational Exercises to Unleash Your Creative Spirit.

 I saw Craig deliver a keynote to cops, child protection service workers and other professionals at a Child Abuse Summit. I don’t have to tell you that child abuse can chew people up. At the end of Craig’s time with us, we’d laughed a lot and we were all renewed. Not a bad ROI for a keynote to several hundred people.

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