16 safety tips from those who work behind the wall

If these lessons are not taken seriously, the safety and security of staff, and all who reside within, will be at risk

By Anthony Gangi

Recently, two correctional officers were killed while performing their duties to protect and serve the public. Their deaths should be a reminder to the many of the dangers that face those who work behind the wall. 

In an effort to protect the many who risks their lives on a daily basis, here is a list of safety tips that must be observed and maintained when working in corrections.

The below safety tips originate from those who have spent some serious time behind the wall. These lessons come from the lifeline of corrections, from the many who have walked the tiers before us.  If these lessons are not taken seriously, the safety and security of staff, and all who reside within, will be at risk.

Safety tips from experienced COs. (Photo/Pixabay)
Safety tips from experienced COs. (Photo/Pixabay)

1. In terms of safety advice, the very first thing we tell our rookies is, "Learn how to say no. That's the answer to every question until you know what you're doing." — Gabe Salazar, custody supervisor, State Penitentiary

2. Always be incognito. Never wear your uniform or advertise what you do for a living outside of the walls. Be like Clark Kent. — Brian Rowback

3.  Consistency will be your best friend. Be consistent with policy even when it's exhausting. And it will be exhausting. But once they get you the first time, they have you every time. — Jennifer Malaeulu, 11-year corrections veteran

4.  The three L's. Look, Listen, Learn. Always look at your surroundings. Make note of anything different. Listen to what they are talking about. Do not ever disregard a rumor from inmates. Stay alert. Listen for different sounds. Learn from situations. Keep learning and stay on top. — Mari Trevino Ortiz, former custody for State Corrections 

5. The worst mistake you can make as a correctional officer is to assume that any current policy or procedure is working based on an absence of incidents. This is the true meaning of the word and concept of "complacency." — Sgt. R. Hamilton, CDCR retired 

6. Watch their hands, and watch your hands. Don't get complacent and stand around with your hands in your pocket. — Capt. Keith Hellwig, State Corrections

7. Avoid complacency and avoid showing bias to any one inmate or race. Remember that we are not here to punish them, just to make sure they stay safe and we stay staff during their sentence. — Ryan Kuepper, custody for State Corrections

8. Treat them all the same, no matter their level of custody. They are all a potential threat to my safety. — Kat Williams, corrections professional 

9.  Approach determines response. This saying has walked in many states I have had the pleasure of working in. — Felipe Zvala, corrections professional

10. Always treat an inmate as unpredictable. — Phil Caruso, custody for State Corrections

11. Remember your prescribed roles. Do not let inmates connect with you on a personal level.  Any personal information about yourself must be protected, or they will exploit it. — Anthony Gangi, host of "Tier Talk" and CorrectionsOne columnist

12. Above all things never show an inmate fear or your uncertainty of a situation! If you don't know a answer say "No" because it's easier to switch a no to a yes then a yes to a no later. And whatever you do, don't panic and stay firm on your answer. — Matthew Zamborowski, custody for State Corrections

13. Safety is a mindset that should be on your mind from the moment you enter the facility until you leave. Never forget that you are dealing with people that do not want to be there, who will try to get by security and are seeing life pass them by. Keep a safe distance mentally and physically. — Gary Cornelius, retired jail lieutenant

14. Always remember that inmates listen to every conversation that corrections officers and staff have. So please be mindful of that. — Sheriff Jamey Noel, Clark County Sheriff's Department   

15. Always be aware of your surroundings. Never become complacent. Always assume that a threat is imminent. They have 24/7 to watch your behaviors and body language. Always be cognizant of that fact. — Dr. Michael Pittaro

16. Transfer of knowledge. Veterans to newer/inexperienced staff. Newer staff need to be teachable/trainable. Veteran staff need to be open to change; get away from "we've always done it this way." — Captain 43

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