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Reality Training: Controlling intense emotions during correctional incidents

Do you know your own personal triggers well enough to control them during an incident?

By C1 Staff

A recent video out of Texas shows a correctional officer striking a female, handcuffed inmate. During the incident, the inmate was believed to be intoxicated and was belligerent with officers.

She was placed in a wheelchair because she was having a hard time standing and walking; as she was being checked for signs of medical problems, she spat on one of the officers. The officer immediately struck the inmate in response.

Check out the video below and rejoin us for a review and discussion questions.

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This situation brings to light the fact that while officers are human and experience human emotion, they have a duty and an obligation in order to control those emotions even as they respond to assaultive behavior. Acknowledging that officers may become angry during the execution of their duties in no way excuses inappropriate behavior, but it does highlight the need for training in this area.

Specifically, communications and use of force training should acknowledge the fact that we can become upset with some of the things experienced as corrections staff. The key is for officers to first recognize that emotions such as anger, frustration, and irritation are normal. To deny this is to deny the difficult situations that officers can frequently experience. Officers should also reflect on what may serve as a personal trigger for those emotions so that they may be more aware that they’re approaching a potential danger zone. By being aware of your triggers, you are better able to formulate a plan to cope with the emotions that you’re likely ready to experience. Finally, staff should be trained in de-escalation techniques and fully understand the use of force boundaries in which they should operate.

For training purposes we can assume certain things in the video are facts in order to determine the most preferred response. We know the inmate was disruptive, obstinate and verbally abusive. Ultimately we know that she assaulted the officer by spitting in his face. At this point the officer had a right and a duty to respond in order to protect himself. The issue then becomes, to what extent the officer was justified in reacting.

Whether or not the inmate is cuffed is relevant with regard to her ability to continue with the assaultive behavior or escalate it. The officer must take those things into account prior to acting out on his response. By the officers own admission, he was angered by the inmate’s actions and reacted without thinking which resulted in his ‘swinging at her several times.’ While taking the offender to the ground and/or controlling her head may have been a justified and appropriate response, the officer understood that he overreacted.

Officers are confronted with various difficult situations as they perform their duties and it’s impossible to prepare for every possible scenario that you may encounter. However, knowing your emotional triggers, options for response, and what constitutes justified use of force will help you to be better prepared to effectively meet the challenges ahead.

Questions for consideration:

  • Are you aware of your own personal triggers?
  • Do you have a plan to control your emotions when they are tested under difficult circumstances?
  • Does your communications training include ways to deal with your own anger as you deescalate situations?
  • Do you understand what constitutes appropriate use of force? “I didn’t realize that I swung at her several times.”

This series of columns takes recent situations in the news and uses video footage to start a discussion.