Police learn to defuse situations during Steamboat Springs training
Steamboat Springs — Twenty Colorado law enforcement officers were in Steamboat Springs last week to learn how to use words instead of force to defuse potentially deadly situations.
Included were six members of the Steamboat Springs Police Department, meaning all the officers, animal control officers and community service officers have now been through the training.
“We’ve been on a two-year journey to get everyone trained in crisis intervention,” Chief Cory Christensen said. “It’s a very popular course. I have yet to not have an officer come back and say that’s the best training they’ve been to.”
The training was among the recommendations made by an independent investigator hired to look at the inner workings of the Steamboat Springs Police Department, which had a surge in excessive force lawsuits before Christensen was hired.
Steamboat police officer John McCartin said the department received $14,000 to host the five days of training, half of which was conducted in the classroom and half in real-world scenarios using professional actors, like Thomas Borrillo.
“Emotionally, you get invested in it,” Borrillo said. “I get all my crying out during these.”
The scenarios were played out within the safe confines of Steamboat Springs High School, but Borrillo created a different reality when he portrayed a depressed man on a bridge who had just been diagnosed with HIV.
A trained coach would sometimes pause the scenarios and help guide the officer toward a solution.
Borrillo also played the role of a drunken homeless man who someone had reported to police. It was then up to Stagecoach State Park Senior Ranger Andrew Dean to gain the trust of the homeless man and find out if he needed help.
It took Dean some careful and sometimes comical conversation to figure out that the belligerent man had been robbed and he could not move because his feet were hurt.
In another scenario, an officer had to figure out how to get Borrillo off a bridge. The officer learned Borrillo was playing the role of a person with cerebral palsy who was terrified of the water below.
In another room, an actor portrayed a suicidal teen who was a cutter and locked behind a door.
Officers attending the training said they look forward to taking what they learned back to their communities.
“I hope it’s a tool we can all add to our toolbox,” Steamboat Sgt. Josh Carrell said.
Christensen said two of his officers who have attended the training have used the skills in the past year to save lives while working with suicidal people.
“She’s standing on a stool and ready to die, and he uses these skills to talk her down and let her get help,” Christensen said.
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