Pinellas County, FL Deputy Ian Rosado e-mailed us to share his opinion that the absolute best way to train for the risks and challenges of the street is to work in a correctional setting first.
In our last Calibre Press newsletter we tossed this out to our readers and asked what they thought. Within minutes, the floodgates opened and comments started flowing in!
Here’s what a random sample of Calibre Press readers had to say:
9 reasons I wouldn’t change having worked in corrections.
Officer Steve Simpson with South Lake Tahoe (CA) PD writes:
I wanted to comment on this because it’s an interesting topic that I have experience with. I’m on my second career at the moment but I worked for a large Sheriff’s Department for 28 years before relocating to my current department. I retired and started over; I wasn’t running from anything. Anyway, during my career in the SD I was in the jail during a period of slow movement and a bankruptcy. So, I did just under 7 years in the county jail as a deputy sheriff and worked in three different facilities. After promoting to sergeant years later, I went back to the jail for another 2.5 years. While this was a long time—and I don’t necessarily think that much time is good—I will say I would never change it for the following reasons:
- I was young (22) when I started and working in the jail was a wake-up call and a kick in the gut as to how the world—especially the criminal element—really works. Fantastic education. I’m not sure I would have figured it out as well if I went straight to patrol.
- You are constantly outnumbered with minimal weapons and limited back up. This requires you to learn how to talk to inmates, how to watch their body language, their eyes, what they say and how they say it. It also teaches you (or it SHOULD teach you) how to show respect to inmates and still do your job and enforce the law. If you treat inmates fairly but you still do your job professionally, most of them will respect you. Not all. Some will still try to get stuff over on you, of course, because they’re criminals. It just is what it is and that part of it should teach you not to take it personally.
- Learning how to work CIs inside custody is important, because it translates to the street and it’s easier for your CI to get hurt inside because there’s no place to go. You have to be careful.
- You will get in fights. You will hopefully learn to talk your way out of fights and learn not to jump into unwinnable situations.
- Some inmates will tell you all about how they do their crime, use their drugs, work their hookers, whatever they’re in for. Don’t lie to them unless you need to. Again, respect will produce more cooperation and information.
- After you’ve been around inmates for a while and learned to keep your head on a swivel, street-level officer safety comes easier. So does talking to crooks.
- Where I found pitfalls with some deputies was that they had to learn to stop talking to everyone like an inmate and learn that on the street you can’t play jail all the time. This is also a learning curve.
- When we had a mix of deputies, police officers and criminals all in the same place on the street, the cops that got the most done and the most respect were either the senior OG police officers or the deputies. If you are in contact with criminals, they’ve probably been in jail before and they know who runs jails. There’s already a certain level of familiarity even if you’ve never met them.
- The deputies that have a chip on their shoulder, that do improper or disrespectful things, you learn to stay away from them because they’re going to get hurt or get in trouble or both. Learning curve.
Agree: Corrections is a great training ground, but disagree with why that’s true…
Community Corrections Supervisor Tim Logan with the Washington State Dept. of Corrections writes:
I agree with the premise of the article that corrections serves as a great “training ground” for someone interested in pursuing a career as a police officer. However, I somewhat disagree with the article regarding why that is the case. I have worked in a county jail, a state prison, and in community corrections over the course of a 29-year career. I have been in jail pods, dining halls, outdoor yards, and prison housing units with anywhere from 10 to 200 inmates and only my wits and a radio to keep me safe.
I did not learn to fight in that situation. I had no firearm, no ECW, no OC. There would be no way to win if all hell broke loose. The vast majority of corrections work is not a “Gladiator School” opportunity. I have worked with plenty of people who had common sense and thoroughly enjoy their jobs in corrections. They don’t detest or fear it. Some days they thrive in it and other days they just survive it. Along the way, they gain amazing people skills, indispensable knowledge and yes, tons of patience.
Most importantly, corrections will teach you (or force you) to communicate and treat people with dignity and respect, no matter their crime or how they treat you. One of the realities of corrections is that you are going to have to interact with the same inmates every day, all day. Unlike police work, there isn’t the luxury of dropping them off at the jail and moving on to the next call. No amount of training or simulation can measure up to that reality of experience that is gained in corrections.
“The skills that I received in prison serve me very well when I’m outside the fence.”
Lt. Tim Merchant, Training Coordinator / Hearings Officer with the Trinidad, CO Correctional Facility writes:
I totally agree that street cops would greatly benefit from working in corrections first. Not only does working inside the fence benefit your situational awareness, it also helps you hone your skills on threat pattern indicators. You also gain valuable verbal skills to de-escalate tense situations. I have been working in corrections for over 15 years and I also do private security and am on a law enforcement auxiliary team. The skills that I received in prison serve me very well when I’m outside the fence.
“This article is poorly written and the author projects a very narrow mindset…”
A retired LEO writes:
This article is poorly written and the author projects a very narrow mindset; his way is right and everyone else is considered inept if they’re not in corrections. We do not share his opinion. I have 38 years of law enforcement experience and I guarantee you he still has a lot to learn, one being public relations. His myopic view only speaks about his experience and does not reflect a bigger knowledge base or perspective. Every aspect of law enforcement has something we can all learn from, but the tone in this article is really unnecessary. No, we don’t all need to be in corrections. He makes assumptions he is not qualified for.
“In my opinion, corrections officers have a much more difficult job than road deputies because of their confined environment.”
Major Andrew Casavant (ret.) formerly with the Walton Co. (FL) Sheriff’s Office writes:
As a trainer and supervisor, I’ve consistently noticed a huge difference in the deputies that worked corrections for several years before hitting the street. First and foremost, they really can talk with people, as that is primarily how they get things done in the correctional setting. They also listen much better and are more patient than road deputies. Corrections also provides a very structured environment for new deputies that the chaos on the street does not. Their decision-making is enhanced due to this structure. We took recruits out of FTO and put them in corrections to solve many common problems new hires face. The Sheriff finally made it mandatory to begin in corrections for two years before being eligible for the street and paid everyone the same. In my opinion, corrections officers have a much more difficult job than road deputies because of their confined environment. This is a real win-win situation.
You get a chance to know the 10 % of the population you will be dealing with 90% of the time on patrol.
Sergeant Jon Meek, Harris County Constable, Pct #7, Houston Texas writes:
Agreed. A lot of the people you deal with in the local county jail are “doing life on the installment plan” so you get a chance to know the 10 % of the population you will be dealing with 90% of the time on patrol. I have also seen that you can “build a rapport” with some of them which just might give you an edge with them on the street. A former co-worker of mine had his life saved by a 3 striker who, after witnessing my coworker get hit and injured by a drunk driver, went to his aid, called for help and stayed with him until help arrived.
Policing is too varied to say there is a universal background that makes a good officer…
The Honourable Justice Lloyd Budzinski (ret.) writes:
As a prosecutor for 20 years and a judge for 30 years, my experience shows that policing is too varied to say there is a universal background that makes a good officer. I worked with a Homicide officer who was a former coal miner from the east coast. He was superb in understanding and speaking to street people.
A real test is when people accept, understand, and deal with their biases using objectivity and empathy. That makes fair, reliable and excellent investigators and witnesses. Other characteristics are patience and persistence. The officer has to appreciate that people dislike bullies. Treating the accused with dignity will persuade an observer that the officer is fair and reliable.
Working in corrections can teach officers to overcome fear, which can paralyze a man or woman not used to dealing with the streetwise criminal element.
Lt. Pete Ebel (ret.) of Noble Profession Training writes:
Working in corrections, where you have to get along with the prisoner and protect their safety, is good training for many as long as you see yourself as helping and not punishing the prisoner. Policing isn’t a war with an enemy; it’s a public service where you must protect the individual’s rights, whether the accused or a victim.
It’s been pointed out by several reviews: policing is a profession, not a team sport. The duty is to the professional standards, not loyalty to a fellow officer who breaches the standards. That is key.
Working in a prison or jail environment gives officers skills that help them recognize pre-indicators of attack, read non-verbal signs and know when a subject was lying to them.
Many officers I’ve known who worked in corrections had worked through pitfalls that can be the undoing of inexperienced officers like feeling the need to impress coworkers or prove something. It can also teach them to overcome fear, which can paralyze a man or woman not used to dealing with the streetwise criminal element.
Former correctional officers excel at talking someone into compliance rather having to use fists or a baton to achieve it. They are often surrounded for their entire shift by criminals, armed with nothing more than empty-hand control techniques. They learn pretty quickly that they cannot fight everyone and rely heavily on their gift of gab to alleviate the need for force. These days, that is known as a concept called de-escalation. It is something good cops have been doing for many years.
And someone who has “been there, done that” exudes calm and confidence should the situation go sideways. They are not likely to overreact due to what Lt. Col. Dave Grossman refers to as “stress inoculation.” The opportunity to get some of that medicine occurs frequently in the corrections environment
And talk about community policing? The officer who sees the same inmates every day can develop rapport with them while still maintaining that necessary arm’s length relationship. They do so by developing a reputation as someone who treats everyone under his or her charge with fairness but firmness.
If a potential hire came to me with those attributes, I wouldn’t hesitate to write “hire” on their file.
A deputy with corrections experience will deal with more “real” criminals in a month than many straight-to-the-street city coppers will in a year or more.
Sgt. Doug Bertoglio (ret.), Orange Co. (CA) Sheriff’s Dept. writes:
At my prior agency we spend 6 months training up deputies to work on the street. Then we toss them into a jail or courthouse for 2-4 years. Bummer, huh?
On the upside, that deputy will deal with more “real” criminals in a month than many straight-to-the-street city coppers will in a year or more. This is especially true in today’s California where misdemeanors are rarely booked into the jail and even more rarely prosecuted. This leaves just the most hardcore crooks in the jail system.
When that deputy gets out on the street, he/she will be able to read tats, clothing, attitudes, etc. It was my experience that crooks on the street treat former jail deputies differently than they treat city coppers. They know the deputies are more savvy.
“…a great training ground for perfecting my low profile (not low risk mind you!) searching and handcuffing techniques, strategic communication and hands on arrest control/ grappling skills.”
Sgt. Jason Jacobo, Elk Grove (CA) Police Dept. writes:
I totally agree with Deputy Rosado’s comments. I also started my career as a Deputy Sheriff by working the jails/ corrections. The jail was a great training ground for perfecting my low profile (not low risk mind you!) searching and handcuffing techniques, strategic communication and hands on arrest control/ grappling skills. I dealt with unruly inmates every day, I talked to inmates every day, I searched inmates every day and I was involved in fights with inmates every day (especially in intake!). I gained a good amount of experience in a relatively short amount of time.
The skills I obtained when working in a custody environment translated well to patrol and were of immense benefit. I found I was able to effectively de-escalate most situations and I tended to use my communication skills first, as I was extremely confident with my hands on skills. I read body language well and had more insight into gang culture from dealing with members from different gangs while in the jail.
I’m on year 25 now and I still utilize the invaluable skills I learned in the jail, on patrol. Thank you for your response Deputy Rosado!
“I do not like that a large number of LE officers look down on corrections officers as being below them.”
Lt. Clayton Barrows with the Macon Co. (IL) Sheriff Corrections Division writes:
I absolutely agree. There are so many benefits for someone seeking a career in LE to work in corrections. Additionally, to work in the jail where you plan to work the streets pays huge dividends.
- Officers learn to communicate at a high level with every type you will find on the road.
- You will likely have had to fight and know what it’s like to get hit before you have to find out on the street.
- You know all the local offenders, probably by name and nickname.
With all that said, I do not like that a large number of LE officers look down on corrections officers as being below them. It’s my experience that the group that have made this a career are incredibly dedicated, smart and tough.
“He’s been locked up.”
Det. Daniel Renear with San Bernardino Co. Sheriff’s & Chino Hills PD writes:
I’ve been saying this for years. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. Meaning you get to learn how career criminals walk, act and move. I can drive down the street and look a person and be fairly accurate when I say, “He’s been locked up.”
My department’s career track is academy, corrections, field training, solo patrol and then, if so desired, upward movement in the ranks. I was a field training officer and can tell you the knowledge you acquire in corrections is not only beneficial but can be lifesaving.
The learning curve on the street is extensive and steep. Corrections trained deputies, have more knowledge than their counterparts who went straight from the academy to the street. While in corrections you not only learned to have a heightened sense of awareness, you also learn to communicate with your partners and with criminals. You learn to talk with them instead of at them. You learn the different cultures in the area you work.
I would also encourage correctional personnel to learn from the inmates. I learned a basic working knowledge of how to cook meth in a coffee pot from talking with an inmate. I learned how to steal a car and which cars to steal from an inmate. Many criminals blame their upbringing and society for their problems. Learning about their woes gives you insight into why criminals do what they do. I’m not saying to buy into their excuses, but knowing how a criminal thinks can help you catch the next one or get that suspect to admit the crime during interrogation.
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
— Sun Tzu, the Art of War
I learned confidence when outnumbered 60 to 1.
Det. Christopher Priest with Gulfport (FL) Police Dept. writes:
I’m in complete agreement with Deputy Rosado.
My first 6 years were working in jails, one of which part of our housing matrix was gang affiliation.
I learned to handle myself long before they gave me the Batman utility belt. I learned confidence when outnumbered 60 to 1. I learned to talk to people that did not want to be talked to.
The jail or prison will give you years of street experience in months.
Helps you step into their first day on the street with “cop’s eyes.”
National Trainer George Thompson with Cutting Edge Training writes:
100% YES! Deputies who are required to work the jails for two to five years prior to working patrol have so many skills – contacting and talking to criminals/setting proper boundaries of behavior/confrontation de-escalation/psychology of criminals/recognition of criminal behavior/hands-on force application, etc. – that an academy recruit will not have for five to eight years working simply on patrol.
Being comfortable (not lazy) around crooks from spending 40+ hours/week with them, seeing them as people who are making really bad decisions rather than a different species of human makes for better street cops. And they step into their first day on the street with “cop’s eyes.” I’ve thought this for almost 40 years and it has been reinforced over and over again.
I was in more physical confrontations during 2 years as a jailer than I have been in 36 years as a police officer.
Lt. Pat Breyfogle from Sioux City, IA writes:
I was a jailer for two years before I started my current 36 years as a police officer. I was in more physical confrontations during that two years than I have been in 36 years as a police officer. My awareness skills were definitely developed and sharpened as a jailer. I have always had a good knack for reading body language. and watching the bad guy’s eyes and hands. It has saved me and some fellow officers numerous times over the years.
Another plus was that I already knew many of the major bad guys in our town that I was able to point out to my FTOs, who did not know who they were. I was able to identify and arrest several people as a rookie, who had outstanding warrants, which made me look very good in front of my FTOs.
Helps you learn to have a long fuse.
Sgt. Mike Legerski with the Huntsville (TX) Police Dept. writes:
Prior to working in law enforcement, I spent 60 months in corrections working for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Institutional Division. I have to say that it was an excellent training ground for learning the games that people play, cons that cons run, hiding places suspects hide contraband, gang activity, expert furtive movements made to conceal or dispose of contraband, reading body language, exposure to violence, handcuffing techniques and learning to have a long fuse/not letting trash talk bother you. I have to say that my experience there was an important part of my success as an officer, now of 27 years in law enforcement. While you certainly do not have to start out in corrections to be successful in law enforcement, it is not a bad way to start.
A somewhat noticeable “us versus them” mentality between the road and jail employees.
Retired Jail Administrator Capt. Steve Van’t Hof formerly with Kent Co. (MI) Sheriff’s Office writes:
I spent 30 years with one of the largest Sheriff’s Departments in Michigan. Anyone hired in had to spend time in the corrections division first before transferring to the road. The lessons and interpersonal skills learned in the jail setting were invaluable. Unfortunately, this all changed in the late 70s and early 80s when a two-tier system was established to separate career paths between road patrol and corrections work. Not only did new street hires lose out on the valuable experience it also led to separate unions and a somewhat noticeable “us versus them” mentality between the road and jail employees.
“There is no one best way to train.”
Retired DEA Special Agent Ed Wezain writes:
There is no one best way to train. It is all about balance and knowing how to apply your training in a given situation. A police officer who spends a year or two in a county jail in a large urban area is going to be in a world of hurt if he goes to a rural area and works with citizens there in the same manner he worked with prisoners.
The same is true for the rural office who goes to a county jail in a large urban area and works with prisoners the same way he did the residents of the rural area he worked in. It’s all about balance, which is easy for me to say, but hard to do in the real world.
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