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Why you should focus on scenario-based training

Use scenario based training to keep your officers’ skills sharp and ready for action


AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File

I recently attended a one week instructor course for developing scenario based training. At this training, like most others I attend, the emphasis is placed on patrol related subjects (firearms training, purist driving and so on). This led me to think of scenarios corrections officers are more likely to face. Naturally, being held hostage, sudden assault and medical emergencies came to mind. I then began to think how often our 557 bed facility faces these situations. Although we have our share of medical emergencies, there as not been an officer held hostage in my 11-year tenure. Next I began to ponder what situations I find myself facing the most. I immediately thought about all the times I have dealt with a verbally abusive inmate.

An example came to mind almost as quickly. I work Huber more days than not, and on a daily basis a Huber inmate will become verbally abusive over their work schedule. The source of their anger may be they do not agree with the amount of time we give them to travel to work. Although it might feel empowering to yell back “if you don’t like it, don’t commit crimes in this county,” I know it will accomplish nothing.

I believe the best way to train officers in using communication to de-escalate a situation is to utilize scenario based training (SBT). In my angry Huber inmate example, a scenario could be developed using one role player as the angry inmate. The scenario could take place in a vacant office, or in the training center, or wherever your agency has the room. The role player would be given instructions to become increasingly hostile (but not physical) until the officer stated something to the effect of “let’s get this sorted out, but first I need you to lower your voice and work with me.”

If the officer maintained a cool head then the inmate would accept the officer’s decision on the reduced schedule. If the officer started to shout back or become ineffective in their verbalizations, then the training officer pauses the scenario and asks the trainee probing questions such as “what are you trying to accomplish? Are you accomplishing what you want? Can you do anything differently?” If the officer in training still doesn’t do well, the training team can run him through it again, this time with coaching beforehand. What makes SBT so successful is it tests the initial response of officers. This way the training cadre knows what sort of skill sets the officer actually poses.

Regardless of the scenario, this sort of training can be justified for several reasons. First, they have a low risk/high reward value. Much to the delight of administrators, training scenarios involving only communication skills will not yield training injuries. This equates to less sick time, less overtime covering for the wounded officer and less time spent on the related paperwork. Secondly, by starting with communication skills training, officers are eased into a new training regimen. The nervousness associated with use of force training will not be present thus allowing staff to relax and get more out of the scenarios. Not only does staff benefit from a gentle start, but so does the training staff. Verbalization skills scenarios require less role players, less equipment and less training space.

Scenario based training is effective. As a training officer I know the skills associated with communication can grow dull overtime. Officers rotate to different assignments or shifts for a few weeks, or in our case, years. Those working electronic monitoring or a tower will begin to lose the skill needed to communicate with a verbally abusive inmate. Whereas the officer working segregation or a direct supervision block will not. Scenario based training, I believe, is the best way to keep them those skills sharp.

For more information on scenario based training I encourage you to check out the reality based training association at or

Josh School has been with the Outagamie County Sheriff’s Department since 2005. During this time, he has served exclusively in the Corrections Division. Josh has served in several capacities including field training officer, use of force instructor and security threat groups officer. In 2014 Josh started teaching in the Wisconsin Jail Academy at Fox Valley Technical College. In June 2017 he was promoted to S/Sgt and continues to work diligently to provide relevant and high-quality training to the corrections division. Josh is experienced in policy writing and procedure review. Educationally, Josh earned a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice and a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and Quality from Marian University in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.