Member Feature: Grand Forks Police Department

Published: 10/01/20 (Thu)

While evaluating options for a replacement Use of Force Simulator, Deputy Chief Jim Remer, Lt. Bill Macki and Lt. Dwight Love of the Grand Forks Police Department (GFPD) were introduced to a new, state-of-the art law enforcement training simulator that features over 600 scenarios, replicating the various interactions officers have with the public every day to help them determine the proper level of force to use in each scenario. The distinguishing factor between this simulator and others was its emphasis on de-escalation and the opportunity for officers to practice de-escalation techniques in nearly every scenario.

“When we saw that, the three of us looked at each other, and you could just tell we were all thinking the same thing,” shared Macki. “Our existing training simulator was over ten years old and was non-functional, so it needed to be replaced, and we were impressed by the variety of scenarios and features this new simulator would enable us to incorporate into our training.”

Macki is a 26-year veteran of the Grand Forks Police Department. He currently leads the department’s Human Resource Bureau (HRB) which organizes, coordinates, and oversees the department's recruitment, retention, hiring, promotions, work force safety, pay and benefit issues, performance evaluation systems, training, educational internships, work study positions, and other miscellaneous volunteer programs. Macki also has experience in patrol management, investigations, hostage negotiations, and SWAT, including seven years as a crisis negotiator and eight years as a SWAT team member.

At the end of January, Macki, accompanied by Remer, met with NDIRF CEO Brennan Quintus and Member Services Director Corey Olson regarding the possibility of obtaining a sponsorship toward the GFPD’s acquisition of this state-of-the-art simulator. Macki provided a detailed overview of the Ti Training RECON simulator’s features, explained how the simulator’s additional features would further enhance the department’s existing curriculum, and provided information regarding the success the department had already experienced after implementing de-escalation training into its curriculum.

“For us, it was an easy decision to support Grand Forks Police Department in providing this training resource,” NDIRF CEO Brennan Quintus said. “This resource helps the department and NDIRF achieve our shared missions and goals which benefit the city of Grand Forks and our state.”

The new Ti Training RECON system was installed in early September 2020. The department has quickly learned how to use the system, testing out dozens of the system’s over 600 scenarios on a select group of employees so that it is prepared to implement quarterly simulation training sessions with each of the department’s 92 sworn officers. 

A TRAINING BOOST 

One of the key ways the simulator will enhance the department’s training environment is by giving instructors the opportunity to work with officers one-on-one or in a small group setting regarding de-escalation, observation, and decision making.

“The addition of the simulator helps to ensure our officers have the training resources they need so they know how to respond in various scenarios they’ll encounter each day,” Macki shared. He also noted the specific RECON system the department acquired receives automatic scenario updates annually, including national scenarios based on recent encounters between law enforcement and the public.

Following their completion of a scenario, officers will receive feedback from instructors regarding the different approaches officers could have taken to manage the scenario. Regarding de-escalation specifically, the feedback will focus on how the officers communicated with suspects, providing them with further guidance on which questions to ask and language to use, and how to assess their tone and body language.

The de-escalation feedback will initially be led by the department’s de-escalation instructor Corporal Justin Holweger. Holweger is an 11-year veteran of the department and has eight years of experience in crisis negotiation and holds a de-escalation training certification.

After demonstrating his de-escalation techniques in a scenario on the simulator, he explained the importance of one of the initial questions he asks.

“One of the first questions I ask is the suspect’s name,” Holweger shared. “By giving someone a name, you show respect.”

The department will soon begin training simulation users to operate the simulator for training as well as training additional de-escalation instructors to help provide feedback to officers.

DE-ESCALATION DEFINED

Macki shared that de-escalation training is the direction all law enforcement is heading, encouraging officers to contain, isolate, and negotiate with suspects rather than use force. He added that he believes GFPD is ahead of the curve in practicing and employing de-escalation techniques given the department currently requires all sworn officers to attend de-escalation training. In 2017, the department held a five-hour classroom-style training on Crisis Intervention which featured role players and specifically focused on how to de-escalate people suffering from a mental health crisis. The following year, the department reported a reduction in the number of use of physical force reports and use of physical force incidents even as service calls continued to rapidly rise, reaching nearly 50,000 in 2018. The department has also provided numerous training opportunities related to communication and high-risk communication.

In combination with its new simulator, the department’s existing training will be amplified in January 2021 which is when it plans to pair basic de-escalation training with use-of-force training (active shooter, weapons, etc.), reminding officers about phrases they can use to de-escalate a scenario.

“Talking with someone to gain compliance rather than taking a hands-on approach can help reduce the chance someone gets hurt,” Macki shared. “Our de-escalation training reinforces to officers that they can take as much time as needed to safely de-escalate a situation,” he added, citing the extensive scenarios offered in the new simulator will help train officers on how to maintain communication with suspects.

Macki noted that even when officers effectively use their de-escalation techniques, they still need to react to suspects’ actions, ensuring they protect themselves as well as anyone else who may be involved.

Holweger defines de-escalation as a method of communication. The approach he has learned and shares with fellow officers so they can also be successful in de-escalating a situation is to drop his tone and ask questions to find a topic on which he can relate with a person.

“There is power in language,” Holweger shared. “De-escalation helps people have safe interactions and can help save people from injury.” 

ADDITIONAL GFPD INITIATIVES

Mental Health Visits

The department encourages officers to find healthy ways to decompress after a stressful event, including talking to one another or taking a break to work out, grab a coffee, etc. which enables officers to effectively respond to future service calls. Macki also shared the department will require mental health visits for all officers beginning in January 2021, giving officers the opportunity to learn further tools to manage stress they encounter in their professional and personal lives.

Community Outreach

Understanding community outreach is an important piece to building strong, safe communities, the GFPD has several programs and initiatives to engage with the public, including:

Citizens Academy: Community-oriented policing plays an important role in reducing crime in any community. The Citizens’ Academy aims to improve communication between citizens and government organizations, enabling further opportunities for the department to obtain citizen input and support throughout the city. This increased understanding and communication allows GFPD and the public to work as a community in identifying problems and finding solutions to issues impacting the city.

Community Outreach & Sector Officers: Sector policing assigns specific officers to be responsible for a designated geographical area of the community. This allows officers to become familiar with the terrain of their designated area as well as the people who live there, allowing them to form relationships with community members.

IMPACT Academy: Created by the GFPD, the IMPACT Academy (Integrity, Maturity, Partnership, Accountability, Community, and Tenacity) helps middle school-aged students become leaders in their community by teaching them life-long skills and showing them the value in becoming active, contributing members of their community.

For a full list of GFPD’s community involvement, visit https://www.grandforksgov.com/government/city-departments/police-department/community-outreach.

PARTNERSHIP WITH THE NDIRF

The GFPD had reached out to NDIRF Director of Member Services Corey Olson to discuss training opportunities and resources available through the NDIRF prior to learning about Ti Training’s RECON simulator, so Macki knew he could reach out to Olson regarding the possible sponsorship of the simulator.

“Grand Forks Police Department had been looking for a way to train its officers under similar stress as they would encounter while on the job, ensuring their training equips officers to responsibly handle various scenarios,” shared Olson.

Olson, who leads the NDIRF’s loss control services which largely focuses on member training and education, creates strategic training opportunities that support members’ efficient and effective administration and operation of their government entities. One of his department’s recent initiatives was to upgrade the online training platform LocalGovU which now offers a fresh interface and over 1,100 professional development courses to NDIRF members at no additional cost. LocalGovU also features an extensive catalogue of law enforcement courses approved for continuing education credit by the North Dakota POST Board. Credit can be used to fulfill 20 of the 60 North Dakota POST training hours required every three years.

AVAILABLE SIMULATOR TRAINING

North Dakota law enforcement agencies are welcome to use GFPD’s new simulator which is available by request at GFPD_Training@grandforksgov.com. The GFPD training sergeant will coordinate resources, based on the requesting agency’s needs, to fulfill their agency goals. Agencies requesting to use the simulator should generally provide their own instructors, though specific requests may be accommodated if an instructor is not available.

 
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