That’s a term we use often in the correctional setting. It is important to anybody that walks a range, or a yard. It’s important to the people who love them.
We would like to think that it is important to our administrations. Save those comments, that’s another article all together. In this article, I plan to discuss the concept of officer safety, and the elements that I believe are included.
We have all heard the old clichés about keeping your head on a swivel, and remembering where you work. That’s sound advice. I would hope that we have all heard something about situational awareness; paying attention to what’s going on around you rather than just meandering through your rounds so you can get back to the desk or office as fast as possible. What about situational response?
Now I have friends who would argue that situational awareness and situational response are one in the same. They might be right. I think the two are different though. Situational awareness means that I know where I am, and who is nearby. I am aware of potential threats; I know where the inmates are. I am aware of means of escape; I know where the exits are. Those are good things.
Situational response goes farther though. Not only have I determined what the potential threats are in my area, I’ve given thought to how I intend to deal with those threats. What interaction is required of me should one of the threats present itself? Am I going to walk away? Am I going to try to talk myself out of a situation? When does use of force become an issue? Escalation of force is obviously circumstantial, but situational response provides me with a tool to do more than just be aware of my surroundings and the threats that exist within those surroundings.
Something else we need to consider when discussing officer safety is our own level of physical fitness. I know! I can hear the grumbles from here. I’ve heard them before. We expect a great deal from our administration in terms of ensuring that our facility or institution is run in a manner that provides us the most safety. We should expect that. Our bosses and their bosses have an obligation to the men and women who serve under them.
What about our obligation to ourselves though? What about our obligation to our co-workers? If you think we don’t have such obligations, you should consider a career change. For the rest of us, we cannot demand more of our administrations than we are willing to provide.
Now, I am not the most physically fit person in my institution. I’m far from it. When it comes time to respond to an emergency though, the people I work with know that I’m going to be right behind them. I might arrive a few seconds after them, but my boots will be on the ground. I’m not suggesting that we have to be marathoners or freaks of nature. I am suggesting that we owe it to ourselves and our co-workers to find some level of physical fitness.
You might not be the first person to the alarm, but your coworkers should be able to count on you getting there and pitching in, and not keeling over.
Then there’s operational security. Those of you with prior military service have heard that term repeatedly. Unfortunately, few of our co-workers understand the importance of it. Our mission remains fundamentally the same day in and day out. We arrive on shift and we report to our post.
We do everything we can to ensure our safety and the safety of the men and women we work with. We also do our best to ensure the safety of the inmates in our charge. Yes, we are obligated to ensure their safety. Accordingly, there are things that we should not discuss with inmates.
For instance, details of security programs should not be discussed with, or in the presence of inmates. STG affiliations of inmates should not be discussed with or in the presence of other inmates. Issues that we might have with fellow officers should not be discussed with or in the presence of inmates.
Some of you are thinking “You don’t need to tell me that.” It’s worth saying though, and it’s worth repeating. While it seems like common sense, it’s not something everybody in the ranks understands. We have a bad habit of shooting ourselves in the foot when it comes to this important aspect of personal safety. I guarantee each of you reading can think of an example.
Our administration has an obligation to the safety of those of us that stand on the front lines. They should do everything in their power to make sure that we are as safe in our jobs as they can.
The obligation is not only theirs. We have to take responsibility for our own actions, and for the things that each and every one of us can do to ensure our own safety. As officers, we must look out for ourselves, and for one another.
About the author
Christopher L. Jones is a Correctional Officer and Security Threat Group Intelligence Officer with the Iowa Department of Corrections, working at the maximum security Iowa State Penitentiary, the oldest operational penitentiary west of the Mississippi. He has been with the department for just short of 8 years and has worked with all levels of custody within the IDOC, including 5 years in the Clinical Care Unit, a 200 plus bed unit special needs unit located on the ISP campus. In addition to his work at ISP, Chris also teaches Security Threat Groups for the IDOC at their Pre-Service Academy.