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Q&A About AVERT Training for Law Enforcement


Why Was AVERT Created for Law Enforcement Staff?
AVERT introduces law enforcement staff to the importance of personal accountability by increasing their emotional self-awareness and empathy, the most critically important qualities needed to develop institutional safety.  The project supports the establishing of system-wide standards of decent human interaction in institutions whose staff members may now be at risk for abusing those in their custody or care. 

Because most institutions of law enforcement have not yet set standards for emotional intelligence in the people they hire, there is a wide range of emotional and social competence found in those now employed.  Some staff are self-aware and empathic, having entered the law enforcement field, for instance, to help society and those they serve.  Others have little insight into themselves, their own behavior or others’ emotional states.  They may have little understanding of or interest in how their own attitudes and behavior affect those with whom they interact.  The AVERT project encourages institutional management to recognize the good behavior of conscientious employees and to create an atmosphere in which those employees who mistreat others stand out from the crowd because of their actions. This results in a whittling away of the deeply entrenched code-of-silence that pervades much of society’s institutions.


Why Does Empathy = Safety for Law Enforcement Personnel and Those in Their Charge?
Empathy allows us to comprehend another person’s thoughts and feelings about us—while differentiating our own perception of them and how that might be affecting the other.  Empathic expertise is an invaluable tool for any law enforcement officer.  It allows the officer to maintain safety by initiating and maintaining a human connection with a detainee.  This process decreases any potential for violence, because in order for a detainee to do violence they must first view the officer as being bad and threatening to inflict immediate harm.  This fear will trigger the detainee’s need to cut off all rational communication, on both a thinking and feeling level, in order to justify any violent behavior they may carry out against the officer. This can happen very quickly, but by the officer maintaining a humane and dignified connection with the detainee they stop this violent process from happening.  In essence, they diffuse the detainee’s resistance to doing the right thing, thus creating a safer situation for all concerned.  In addition,
it is very important for law enforcement officers to keep in mind that the everyday business of handcuffing individuals, inhibiting their movement, and holding them captive, is more than just a routine procedure for most detainees.  In fact, for the individual being held it may very well be the most frightening and traumatic experience of their life and, depending on their emotional state, could lead to violence or possible harm to the officer and/or detainee.  It is therefore of vital importance that officers gain the emotional expertise necessary to comprehend the thinking and feeling processes of the detainees in their charge.   It could mean the difference between life and death.


What is Empathy and How Can it Prevent Violence?
Empathy is the process of stepping outside of oneself and into the shoes of another.  It is our human ability to understand the thoughts, emotions, and perspective of another human being by drawing on our own life experience for insight into their situation. It’s understanding, both emotionally and intellectually, what it might be like to be standing in the shoes of the other person and how we might respond if in a similar circumstance. 

When addressing the issue of violence-prevention for law enforcement officers and those in their charge empathy is extremely important because it allows officers to do several things.  First, it gives them a chance to predict the behavior of the other, and second, it allows them the possibility to affect the outcome before it’s too late.


Can Empathy Be Developed Through Training?
the use of specifically designed role-training exercises, one can develop a cognitive (thinking) as well as affective (feeling) understanding of another’s experience.  Social role-taking is an exercise that helps an individual or group develop empathy by having them assume the role of another.  This method has two distinct components: cognitive role-taking, wherein an individual becomes able to think about what another person is thinking, and affective role-taking, wherein an individual becomes able to understand another’s feeling states.


How long is the Training?
The training is designed to be completed two in different formats.  The first is a (four-hour) training and the second a (six- or eight-hour) training.  However, where special needs are concerned, the training format can be tailored to meet the needs of the respective agency.


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Avert Violence Empathic Response Training