‘Take a breath and then re-engage:’ Florida company trains police to understand their emotions

RITE Academy courses designed to help officers better understand themselves

THE VILLAGES, Fla. – Shortly after a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri fatally shot unarmed teenager Michael Brown in 2014, prompting allegations of police abuse, Linda Webb began examining other high-profile cases of law enforcement officers accused of using excessive force.

"One thing I saw was that there was a heightened emotion in play," said Webb, a former police officer and detective who later became a corporate fraud investigator. "Each and every single time, if you go back and look at the tapes, you'll see police officers' emotions were very heightened, almost to the point of anger."

The following year Webb teamed up with Randy Friedman, a motivational trainer with a background in athletics, to create a law enforcement training program that emphasizes the officers' emotional state.

RITE Academy, an acronym for Racial Intelligence Training and Engagement, teaches officers to become aware of their emotions to better navigate social situations, according to the company’s website.

The program is different than the usual cultural training that law enforcement officers typically receive, Friedman explained.

“(Prior training) was all about culture diversity and why somebody does this because they’re black, and why somebody does this because they’re white, and (why) you have to respect that,” Friedman said. “And that’s great, but it doesn’t really get to the point of the emotions.”

“Police officers have been told for the longest time, ‘You have to hide your emotions’,” Webb said. “Maybe (an officer) just went to a suicide call ... and the next call is a neighbor’s barking dog. Really? You want me to deal with a neighbor’s barking dog when I just went to a suicide?”

RITE Academy courses are designed to help officers better understand themselves and how their emotions impact their relationship with the public.

“We teach police officers to identify what pisses you off,” Webb said. “What makes you mad?”

Webb, who said she was raised by a family of alcoholics, eventually discovered her emotions were triggered when she encountered a subject who had been drinking heavily.

“There was a time I had to arrest a drunk in a parking lot at a bar,” Webb said. “It was my third arrest that day because it was Super Bowl day, and I used a little bit more force than necessary, physical force, when I had him on the ground. And my police partner ... tapped me out.”

To help officers visualize their range of possible emotions, RITE Academy instructors use a diagram of a ladder. The lower rungs are labeled with negative emotions such as “fear”, “guilt”, “frustration” and “impatience” while higher rungs highlight positive feelings including “joy”, “gratitude” and “love.”

“Being down on the bottom of the ladder, the engagement (with the public) is going to go downhill,” Friedman said. “But if we can come up a little bit, it’s going to help them engage better.”

Leaning on her sports background, Friedman encourages officers to take a breath similar to how basketball players do before shooting free throws.

"They’re increasing oxygen to the brain. And when we increase oxygen to the brain, we’re going to make better decisions," said Friedman. "When we teach taking a breath, it’s not two minutes. It’s not even a minute. It's literally, before you jump out of your patrol car and do something you’re going to regret, just take a breath and then re-engage."

Webb believes such a pause can help diffuse tensions during a traffic stop.

“[When the] first thing out of your mouth is, ‘Give me your driver’s license! Give me your driver’s license! Get out of the car! Get out of the car!,’ and you’re saying those words so fast, the driver is scared to death,” Webb said. “They’re not necessarily hearing you because they’re still processing that they’ve gotten pulled over and they don’t even know why they’ve gotten pulled over.”

“Slow down. Slow the call down. Take your time with people,” Webb added.

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