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Power Up Policing with Improv – PT 2

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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.



  • Have the group divide into pairs for thumb wrestling.
  • Bring a participant to the front of the group and illustrate the thumb wrestling position.
  • Tell the participants their objective is to maximize the amount of money they get. (Clarify this is imaginary money.)
  • Instruct, “Every time you hold your partner’s thumb down, you get a dollar. Only hold the thumb down for a second and then start over. You will have 20 seconds. Ready, go.”
  • After 20 seconds ask, “Who made no money?” It’s likely many hands will go up.
  • Then ask, “How many of you made one to five dollars? Six or more? Did anyone make ten or more?”
  • If partners raise their hands for the higher amounts have them come to the front and demonstrate.
  • Soon the group will understand. The only way to maximize winnings is to cooperate rather than compete.
  • There are two primary ways to cooperate: quickly alternate who wins so each player wins half the time or let one player win all the time and split the money.

Suggested Debrief Questions:

  • What did the partners who made the most money do?
  • Why are we so competitive, combatant or literal and linear in our thinking?
  • What did you learn about cooperation?
  • Can you think of how you might create win-win situations in your work with citizens, suspects, fellow officers, staff, and your bosses?

Back at the station.

Improv isn’t limited to helping officers bring their whole brain to scenarios and the street, as the last debriefing question above demonstrates. Many of the qualities needed to do improv are equally effective in establishing a productive and innovative departmental environment, teams, and individual officers.

Improv exercises teach team trust and influence. They can also help generate ideas and harmony among different points of view. Improv can open the door to honest and open communication, and help overcome people's fear. These bridges are even more important during these “do everything with nothing” economic times.

Here’s an improv exercise to use at an in-service that has team, trust and leadership building as one of its aims.

Exercise: “YES, BUT” VS. “YES, AND”


  • Have participants pair off and take opposite positions on a job issue. For example, whether to settle a use-of-force lawsuit in which the officer followed policy and procedure because it would be less costly than a trial; whether to pursue a promotion from patrol sergeant to an administrative lieutenant’s position; whether to change from five 8-hour shifts to four 10s (or vice versa).
  • Each of the pairs tries to persuade the other of their position.
  • In the first exchange, direct participants to go back and forth in their debate using, “yes, but.”
  • Then have them switch their positions and this time discuss the issue back and forth using “yes, and.”

When Sam Horn, author of the book Tongue Fu®, does this exercise with workshop participants they’re amazed at the difference when they substitute “yes, and.” The discussions become more courteous and less contentious. Instead of trying to make the other person see the error of their ways, they start acknowledging and treating each other’s views with respect.

This isn’t soft skills stuff.

Being able to bring both sides of our brains to scenarios, the street, classroom training and leadership is critical. Improv exercises stimulate both your right and left brain hemispheres and get them zapping each other across the synapses.

They’re active, surprising, engaging and fun. Kat Koppett notes,

“Improv exercises can be wonderful ‘jolts’ – introducing individuals to new ways of thinking, as well as wonderful workout routines for exercising the muscles of creativity and teamwork.”

Companies like Sony, Price-Waterhouse, Microsoft, Dell and Oracle agree with her as Koppett has designed and delivered training to help them deal with the “complex chaos” of today’s corporate workplace.

“Complex chaos?” Try handling some law enforcement scenarios and calls or training on skills that can be a matter of life or death. Try leading officers through hard economic times, fast changing technology, four generations in the workplace, heightened media scrutiny, increasingly diverse communities, and, as always, politics – not to mention the bad guys.

Improv exercises can power up police training, skills application on the street, and police leadership. It’s okay if they’re also fun. The rest of the job is serious enough. 


About The Author:

Described by Calibre Press as "the indisputable master of enter-train-ment," Val Van Brocklin is an internationally sought speaker, trainer and noted author. She combines a dynamic presentation style with over 10 years experience as a prosecutor where her trial work received national media attention on ABC's Primetime Live, the Discovery Channel's Justice Files, in USA Today, The National Enquirer and REDBOOK. In addition to her personal appearances, she appears on television, radio, and webcasts, in newspapers, journal articles and books. Visit her website: