Police officers have state training mandates to keep up with, such as how to deal with blood-borne pathogens and people with mental disturbances. For the past five years, Steuben County Sheriff Tim Troyer has organized a program through the Indiana Drug Enforcement Agency that provides a fast-paced, entertaining and interactive way to learn and discuss current policing trends.
Thursday, two sessions were offered at the Witmer Clubhouse on the Trine University campus. Not just sheriff’s deputies, but other emergency services representatives were invited. It was sponsored by the sheriff’s department, Angola Police Department and the Community AntiViolence Alliance.
The audience watched a series of skits by ACT Out Ensemble of Indianapolis. The social-issue theatre is sponsored by Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and also appears in schools, doing theatrical courses on bullying and antiviolence.
Each year, the skits are different. The police training is built to meet the mandates through case studies from across the state and input from officers who attended past training sessions, said ACT Out director Sara Riemen. She said the mock incidents provide thinking points created from real life incidents with a touch of humor to provide a little levity for a required annual duty.
She applauded Steuben County for getting more people involved than just police officers.
Getting all the agencies together, said Troyer, makes the experience well rounded. Troyer is the northeast Indiana representative for the Indiana DEA and learned about the training series while working undercover for the DEA. He said it is ideal for both the time involved and the quality of the program.
Thursday’s series started with Indianapolis actor Phillip Armstrong portraying an elderly man with Alzheimer’s disease who had refused for three days to leave the basement. Actress Dena Toler was his daughter, who called the police for help. The short scene played through with Zach Stonerock as the officer, and a family friend, who ultimately suggested Dena leave her father in the basement with his chest of potentially lethal Vietnam war mementos as there was “nothing he could do.”
At that point, Riemen “froze” the scene. The actors remained in their personas as members of the audience were allowed to provide feedback and explain how they thought things could have been done better. After it was hashed it out, the actors were given an opportunity to provide feedback and offer further tips.
The skits were mostly geared toward what not to do, such as to keep everyone in a potentially explosive situation in the officer’s line of vision and not to further exacerbate people’s emotional states.
The final skit did not involve a police officer. Instead, Toler was a seventh-grader — the potential victim of an older man grooming her to be a prostitute. Toler was hungry and her mother had not come home the night before, and the man offered to take her after school to a nice restaurant and to get her hair done. After they finished the skit, the officers talked about social cues that younger people may not understand and the emotions that play on a child that may be lonely or neglected; how officers may have the opportunity to be a role model that counteract the effects of sexual predators.
There was a session that involved an obviously racist officer dealing with a Hispanic family where a baby had just died. Another segment dealt with autism.
The lessons resonate, said Troyer, noting that last year’s skit on autism struck a cord with many of his officers. “A lot of the officers and a lot of the confinement officers talked about it for a long time after that,” he said.