Police Officer Training: Ready for Anything?

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Status: 07/31/2022 13:30

At the Rhineland-Palatinate police school, candidates are prepared for their service and for the increasing willingness to use violence against officers. However, a residual risk remains, as Kusel’s police killings demonstrate.

“Stop or I’ll shoot!” Police candidate Alina Heib takes her gun out of it in a matter of seconds, puts it back in the holster on her hip, and keeps walking. “Stay or I’ll hit you!” Now she takes the cane out of the bracket on her body. Students repeat the same movement sequences countless times. It is early morning at the police academy in Büchenbeuren, Rhineland-Palatinate. The schedule says “deployment training,” out on the sports field.

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As 15 uniformed police candidates run in a circle, coach Eva Lang calls out instructions in the middle. “Students need to practice extracting the right resource, and most importantly, quickly,” explains Lang.

The many reps are particularly important, because: “That gives routine and security. Because if I get attacked, I can’t think too much about where my gun is and if I’m actually drawing it.”

Alina Heib, 20, is one of 1,600 students at the Rhineland-Palatinate police academy.

Image: Lucretia Gather

“Responsibility for society”

The bachelor’s degree in police service at the Hunsrück University of Applied Sciences lasts for three years. Currently, 1,600 students are training there to become police inspectors.

Heib is 20 years old and in his second year of college. He had applied to the school before graduating from high school. It was always his dream to become a police officer, he says. The work is diverse, exciting and challenging, and: “It takes responsibility for society and ensures safety and law and order, I think that’s important.”

Prepare for exceptional situations

During the three years of study, theory and practice are closely intertwined. “Future police commissioners are prepared in an interdisciplinary way for citizen-oriented policing,” says Sabine Schmitt-Bauer, a spokeswoman for the university.

The content of the theoretical part of the training includes legal foundations such as criminal law or traffic law, learning of forensic methods, but also subjects such as psychology.

Frank Hallenberger is the university’s director of psychology and head of the crisis intervention team. “Police officers are repeatedly confronted with people who are in exceptional emotional situations and who act aggressively or provocatively,” says Hallenberger.

In the course of their studies, students learn techniques with which they can reduce such stressful situations. And they learn to deal with their own feelings in such situations. Heated situations can often be verbally relaxed. But time and time again police officers find themselves in the position of having to use force themselves, also in their own defence.

Increased violence against police

Why: Attacks on police officers are on the rise across the country. In 2020, almost 85,000 police officers experienced violence, about six percent more than the previous year. According to statistics from the Federal Criminal Police, this includes physical attacks, but also verbal attacks, insults, coercion or resistance.

The majority of acts of violence against police officers, 84.5 percent, are committed by men, more than one in two perpetrators was under the influence of alcohol. A statement from the Federal Criminal Police points out that it is a social responsibility to stop this development: “Attacks on state representatives are condemned.”

In addition to physical fitness, training for future police officers also includes handling stressful situations.

Image: Lucretia Gather

Dismay after police murder in Kusel

This topic is especially present for the students of the Rhineland-Palatinate police academy. Just a few months ago, in January this year, a young police officer and a police candidate died on the job, shot dead during a routine check in Kusel, Palatinate. They both studied here at the university.

“That keeps us busy to this day,” says Director of Psychology Hallenberger. “The colleague who was shot was still an active student here with us, many knew her personally, and such an extraordinary event leaves no one indifferent.”

It’s also your job to remove any fears from the young cops about your service and help them keep their distance from the things they’ll experience every day “out there.” “Resilience, that is, psychological resistance, is very important for future police officers,” says the psychologist. When selecting students, attention is paid to whether the young applicant has a stable personality and is emotionally and socially fit.

High priority: physical fitness

In addition, there is physical fitness, because sport plays a very important role in police training. Daily training is part of this for future police officers, because: “Strength and endurance are essential to survive on this job,” explains sports trainer Dennis Laux.

As Heib completes an obstacle course on the sports field, the sports scientist explains that physical fitness also provides safety for road use. “They must be able to trust 100 percent that their partner can help them in stressful situations, like a chase, and be physically capable of doing so.”

“There is no such thing as 100% security”

Heib finishes doing ten push-ups, then weaves through a car tire track. “For us women in particular, it’s extremely important to be fit, because our opponents are usually much stronger and have more physical strength to use against us.”

In a year, Heib will leave the police academy. And as a police commissioner, she was initially employed by the riot police or on patrol duty. She says that she is looking forward to the service. She is not afraid: “We are well prepared for everything that can await us at work. There is no such thing as 100 percent security. Something unforeseen can always happen.”

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