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Iron Sharpening Iron

  • Category: Blog, News, Pulse
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  • Written By: Dwain Hebda
Iron Sharpening Iron

Officer training lies at the heart of security

When it comes to keeping Baxter Health safe, Director of Security Mike Armstrong maintains a simpler-is-better mentality to dealing with situations. That is, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, which is particularly informative of his philosophy regarding training his officers. 

“Twenty or 30 years ago, security was simply observe and report. We are not that,” he said. “We are an extremely proactive department. Training and tactical preparedness is something I take a great deal of pride in.”

Over the past 15 years that Armstrong had led the department, officers have become better equipped and better prepared thanks to the support of hospital administration and the ongoing training that readies the department for nearly anything the world can throw at it.

And even though officers are armed and prepared for hand-to-hand engagement as the situation dictates, soft skills are an equally important tool in the day-to-day work of a professional security officer, Armstrong said.

“One of the differences between law enforcement and doing this job is with law enforcement you get called to a complaint or you get called to a dispatch call, you deal with that person and you walk away,” he said. “In this type of organization, we are staying in the same facility with a lot of the people that we’re dealing with. It changes your approach. There’s a great deal of finesse that needs to be used. 

“Your de-escalation skills have got to be on point. You have to carry a large degree of empathy to be able to put yourself in someone else’s position and see things from their point of view so that you can actually help facilitate them getting care and not be a deterrent to them getting care.”

This training, called Crisis Prevention Intervention, or CPI, is required of all officers, and as the name suggests, it is intended to develop skills and techniques to defuse situations before they escalate to physical altercations whenever possible.

“I like to call it verbal judo,” said Officer Jay Nichols. “There’s a lot of things when you approach a situation that you can use to redirect them from whatever the issue is. You’re just trying to get their mind off the pain or whatever situation that brought them in so that we don’t have to go hands-on with defensive tactics. 

“For that, we use a lot of de-escalation techniques, redirecting. A lot of times it’s as simple as, ’Hey, do you like fishing?’ Find a common ground that breaks the ice. Again, that’s something not everybody is born with, but we do practice it and train with it on a daily basis.” 

As the department’s 13 officers undergo de-escalation training, they develop a better sense of how to deconstruct and defuse a situation in the moment. That begins with reading physical and verbal clues that suggest to the officer why someone is acting the way that they are.

“Maybe it’s the terrible last week, last two weeks or last six years of their life that has created a behavioral response with them that is triggered automatically by either being hurt, or they’ve been victimized, or they had bad run-ins with law enforcement or bad run-ins with hospitals,” Armstrong said. 

“Having an understanding of why people respond to things the way they do and being able to empathize with that is the first step to being able to de-escalate that situation. That’s always what we aim for, and that’s always my preference — that nothing becomes physical.”

Once things do escalate, officers are trained in the right way to counteract a physical assault thanks to extensive hand-to-hand training. Armstrong, a lifelong martial artist, designed the training program to help teach officers how to rebuff a physical attack or restrain an individual with a minimum of injury to themselves or the perpetrator as appropriate to the situation. 

“On top of the de-escalation training, there are some soft-hand techniques that are taught along with that. Being able to control and deal with someone without injury is extremely important, if it’s at all possible,” Armstrong said. “We move from soft-hand techniques to hard-handed techniques — being able to strike and defend in strikes, ground fight, fight off your back if somebody gets you on the ground, as well as different means of getting out of different holds people could grab you in.

“Once we go through the defensive tactics portion of it, then you move more into expandable baton and handcuffing procedures. We do not use pepper spray because it’s an environmental contaminant for the hospital.”

In 2013, Baxter Health officers began carrying sidearms, which opened up another area of training. Under Nichols’ direction as head firearms trainer, officers spend a lot of time on the range practicing their marksmanship as well as a great deal of tactical training and situational preparedness using a firearm.

“We do a lot of work with room clearing with team strategies for dealing with active shooters,” Armstrong said. “How to deal with a static shooter, a shooter that’s in one place and doing harm versus a dynamic shooter that’s moving and shooting essentially targets of opportunity. It’s different approaches to dealing with those two — a barricaded suspect versus one that’s moving around.”

Nichols said the seriousness of purpose behind the training helps officers achieve the more rewarding parts of their jobs, which is to ensure everyone makes it home safely and can work, heal or visit loved ones in a safe, secure environment.

“We don’t always see people at their best, and when you can step in and make their day a little better, you feel like you’ve accomplished something,” he said. “It’s kind of cliché, but helping people, making them feel better, stepping in and helping kids or the elderly who can’t help themselves, at the end of the day you feel like you contributed and did something to help somebody else. That makes everything worth it.” 

This feature appeared in the Fall 2023 issue of Pulse Magazine. To view the entire issue, visit