COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — If there’s one thing the newest Colorado Springs police recruits can count on, it’s that no two days at work will ever be the same.
To help prepare them for that unpredictability, part of the training at the Colorado Springs Police Academy includes reality-based training.
“Most of our training scenarios are from real calls for service,” said Officer Trisha Clippinger, a staff instructor at the academy.
In one scenario, recruits are responding to a domestic disturbance, and their actions are evaluated by instructors.
“What we’re expecting our trainees to do is operate under our policies and procedures, Colorado law, and what we’ve trained them to do in this academy,” said Clippinger.
Recruits are put through more than 60 different scenarios over the course of the academy.
“We have vehicle contacts, we have a burglary in progress, we have a domestic violence call for service where there’s no probable cause for arrest, so it’s challenging their legal authority, and if they know the law enough to know that they have no probable cause there,” said Clippinger. “Then they have a domestic violence scenario that stems from that where there is probable cause, so they have to acknowledge those changes in the situation that give them more.”
Recruit Robert McGee said there were lots of surprises in the reality-based training.
“You could go in thinking that you’re going to be handling a noise complaint, or you could be going in thinking you’re just going to be doing a follow-up to a stolen vehicle, and then all of a sudden here’s a stranger coming at you with a knife or a screwdriver,” said McGee.
Recruits are also put through virtual reality-based training.
“They have force-on-force situations that we present them with, such as combative subjects or a situation where someone is armed with a weapon. How do you safely get it away, or is that a situation where you have to act and use force?” said Clippinger.
Inside the academy walls, it’s ok to get things wrong, and the recruits are not expected to get it right the first time.
“It’s always better to make a mistake in a controlled and safe environment than to put them out on the street,” said Clippinger. “What we want them to get from here is to start building those mental templates, so ‘ok, I’ve now been stressed out and shocked about this,’ so next time they get stressed out about something their reaction time is quicker, and response as well.”
The scenarios also allow recruits to take what they’ve learned in the classroom and put it into action.
“It’s really important because we have different types of learners,” said Clippinger. “We have people that are visual learners, people that are auditory learners, and then you have those tactile learners, which is a lot of people that we get in that they need to do it. It’s hard to sit in front of a PowerPoint and go ‘yeah, I get it, it’s great. I totally know what to do now when I go out on a domestic violence call for service.’ That’s just not realistic. We need them to experience things and we would prefer them to experience them in this controlled environment.”
“The reality-based training is by far my favorite component aside from the skills training, just because it’s so realistic and it has made me feel more like a cop than any time before,” said McGee.
Even with all this training, Clippinger said there will still be surprises on the job.
“There’s no way of telling when you’re out on the street what you’re going to be faced with,” Clippinger said. “Everything is always going to be different.”
“You could go to the same house three different times and experience three different things each time.”
The learning doesn’t stop here, as each new call these recruits will eventually respond to will be another opportunity to learn something new.
“Officers in general, when you stop learning you shouldn’t be doing this job anymore,” said Clippinger.