Trending Topics

Honoring veterans in distress

A web-based police training course outlines public safety de-escalation tactics for military veterans in crisis


The personal stories told by veterans during the course make a solid impression on the learner that goes beyond the academic knowledge about PTSD.

Getty Images

As it is with police officers, combat veterans typically resume their lives with some degree of normalcy along with varying degrees of physical and emotional damage short of a PTSD diagnosis. There is a danger of treating every distressed veteran as a broken person and a danger of failing to recognize the manifestations of post-traumatic stress injury. For the first responder, fortunately, the government is here to help.

Through the cooperation of the U.S. Department of Justice COPS Office, the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Law Enforcement Innovation Center (LEIC) of the University of Tennessee’s Institute for Public Service, an online training course is available for police officers and others who need to learn or review methods for working with veterans in crisis.

The merits of the course include its brevity. It can be completed within a couple of hours, with the option of stopping and returning so that you aren’t committed to completing the course in one sitting. It is also interactive to a degree that doesn’t reach an annoying level as some courses seem to do. There is a combination of real-time videos, audio-only clips, animation, text and review quizzes. The course gets high scores for variety and engagement.

Foundational education on PTSD

For those who have a good grasp of the dynamics of PTSD and how it can show up on calls for service or during a crisis event, the information shared in this training series is a great review and may add a thought or two to an experienced knowledge base. For an officer who may not have had specific training on this issue, particularly as it applies to military veterans, the information provided is a great foundational education on PTSD. The personal stories told by veterans make a solid impression on the learner that goes beyond the academic knowledge about PTSD.

In addition to covering causes, symptoms and behaviors associated with veteran PTSD, the course provides several scenarios that coach the learner on good techniques for interaction. Crisis communication examples, as well as what responder behavior to avoid, are illustrated in engaging ways. The course becomes personalized as the student enters their name on the screen and becomes a role-playing character in scenarios. Completing the pre-test, three modules, final quiz and course evaluation earns the student a certificate for course completion. An attached information sheet provides more details and resources for the student for further study.

Especially of interest is the VA’s National Center for PTSD where additional courses are available. Most are designed as continuing education for counseling providers but are available and of interest to officers interested in learning more about mental health interventions.

A starting point for discussion

While the course is designed for individual officers to take on their own, this reviewer sees a lot of value in a group discussion about each of the modules. Not everyone will agree with all of the answers and actions considered correct in the quizzes and scenarios. As a chaplain, police leader and trainer with many years of studying and teaching about crisis intervention and PTSD, I did not score an impressive final grade on all of the course assessments because I didn’t agree with all of their recommendations.

The balance between maintaining officer safety and being emotionally available to a person in crisis is never an exact science. The course at times leans toward the counseling aspect that goes beyond being a good listener. Getting information and exploring feelings and experiences is a good counseling technique. On the other hand, asking too much about the personal lives and experiences of a person in crisis can be a tipping point in the conversation into either a negative spiral or obtaining information an officer doesn’t otherwise have the training to deal with.

One scenario involves an officer entering a home after contacting the reporting party, a veteran’s spouse, who permits the officer to enter. The officer contacts the distressed husband who is seated at a small table and who grows agitated. The husband stands and begins to move aggressively toward the officer. Rather than retreat or use verbal interventions, the officer deploys her TASER and the next scene shows the husband handcuffed in a patrol car. This is one example of a scenario that deserves discussion in a squad room. How many “barricaded subjects” have been created by an officer who should have just left a person who has committed no crime to the constitutional right to be left alone in their own house?

I certainly recommend the course for a lot of good reasons, with the only suggestion that several officers take the opportunity to discuss a variety of “what ifs” to maximize its benefit. Our veterans deserve our best efforts.

Click here to access the online course. Additional resources are available below.

Introduction to Public Safety de Escalation Tactics for Military Veterans in Crisis Tips From the Field by epraetorian on Scribd

Joel Shults retired as Chief of Police in Colorado. Over his 30-year career in uniformed law enforcement and criminal justice education, Joel served in a variety of roles: academy instructor, police chaplain, deputy coroner, investigator, community relations officer, college professor and police chief, among others. Shults earned his doctorate in Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis from the University of Missouri, with a graduate degree in Public Services Administration and a bachelor degree in Criminal Justice Administration from the University of Central Missouri. In addition to service with the U.S. Army military police and CID, Shults has done observational studies with over 50 police agencies across the country. He has served on a number of advisory and advocacy boards, including the Colorado POST curriculum committee, as a subject matter expert.