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New Iowa police training shifts from warrior to guardian

Blue Courage helps cops develop resilience, remember why they joined law enforcement

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JOHNSTON — Following high-profile police shootings across the country, law enforcement leaders want officers to think more like guardians and less like warriors.

The Iowa Law Enforcement Academy has received a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to train Iowa instructors in Blue Courage, a policing philosophy that hones critical thinking, open mindedness and fairness and strives to help cynical cops remember the importance of their profession.

“If you put officers out on the street for a period of time, you get a jaded mind-set,” said Academy Director Judy Bradshaw. “Blue Courage will bring that officer back to understanding how his actions affect people’s lives — and his own.”

Recent police shootings in Ferguson, Mo.; Baltimore, Chicago, Minneapolis and other cities have sparked distrust and anger between the public and law enforcement. As community members ratchet up criticism, police may feel they can’t do anything right.

Police work can take a toll on officers’ personal lives, with some studies suggesting higher rates of domestic violence, depression and suicide for police officers than the general population.

Blue Courage, developed by a retired police commander from Aurora, Ill., teaches officers how to develop mental toughness and reduce stress to improve their judgment and ability to de-escalate volatile situations.

This can be as simple as taking time to answer citizen questions, rather than viewing the questioner as disobeying police orders, Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman said.

“If it’s not a situation that requires an arrest, can we use de-escalation tactics to resolve it?” he asked.

Jerman, who learned about Blue Courage earlier this year, plans to have at least two Cedar Rapids officers participate in the first round of training in February. The training will be rolled out to recruits and veterans starting later this year.

Iowa City Police Sgt. Scott Gaarde thinks Blue Courage is a good way to help officers focus on their internal thought process.

“Having the ability to effectively problem solve an incident, while applying patience and empathy in a practical manner, can only assist the officers in their discretionary decisions, which in turn can only lead to more trust from the members of the community,” Gaarde wrote in an email.

The academy, which trains 180 to 240 new officers each year, started a 14-week basic training session Monday. With 94 recruits, it’s one of the largest classes in recent years, Bradshaw said. As the economy improves, cities and counties are able to hire more officers and send them to ILEA for training, she said.

Iowa police demographics generally mirror those of the state, which is about 90 percent white, Bradshaw said. Agencies always are trying to recruit more people of color and women, she said. The new group of trainees has 15 women.

“It’s easier to talk to someone who looks like you,” Bradshaw said. “The more you can diversify law enforcement, the more people can relate to law enforcement.”

Bradshaw, who led the Des Moines Police Department for seven years, was named assistant academy director in October 2014. She was promoted in June when Arlen Ciechanowski retired abruptly. Ciechanowski had fired former Assistant Director Mike Quinn in June 2014, more than a year after Quinn was investigated for making inappropriate comments to women.

The academy offers classes that include accident investigation, child abduction response, firearms, high-speed pursuit, internal affairs, court security and 911 communications. Instructors last year added three hours of training on managing medical crises, Bradshaw said. This year, for the first time, the academy will teach officers how to deal with juvenile mental illness.

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