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"Mindset with which you enter into a situation can determine the outcome"

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Police Officers stand by with a cloud of fireworks around them

Aggression and violence against Police Officers remain at too high a level. Throughout last year, around 12,500 colleagues experienced some form of aggression or violence. The Netherlands Police announced this today.

Attention is paid to this theme in various ways within the education of the Netherlands Police Academy. For example, in ways to deal with violence. Or better yet: preventable. Mental resilience and mental strength can play an important role in this, says Olaf Sichterman, teacher D at the Netherlands Police Academy in Amsterdam. "The mindset with which you as a Police Officer enter a situation can determine the outcome."

"With the hardening of society, mental strength has become increasingly important", says Olaf. "At the Netherlands Police Academy in Amsterdam we have a dedicated team of teachers who are very enthusiastic about this theme. This group includes not only IBT teachers, but also teachers of General Legal, Behavior & Communication and English, for example.

The group followed the train-the-trainer course with Roel LeDuc, the Mental Strength Cluster coordinator within the Netherlands Police Academy. These teachers are becoming even more professional in their breadth and are also bringing other teachers along. So that students learn what mental strength means to them throughout their entire education."

Performance psychology

Mental strength is actually performance psychology, Olaf knows. "It's all about: how can I perform optimally under pressure or under difficult circumstances? We are happy to invest in that. Because situations on the street can quickly go from zero to one hundred. Our working group introduces students to the different mental tools you can use for this.

If the teacher knows how the tools work, he can in principle use them in every lesson. For example, something as simple as a student sitting in the hallway with a pale face. Because he has an exam later. What happens in that student's head and body at such a moment? And how could the student learn to deal with this better? The core group is always busy guiding teachers. In order to transfer knowledge to the learning environment."

Creating a mental image

Preventing violence against Police Officers can start with good mental preparation for a possible incident. "We have the goal-approach analysis for that", says Olaf. "It consists of a number of questions you should ask yourself before you go somewhere. Such as: what is the goal? What are the risks? How are we going to do this? You make a mental picture of what will happen next.

This way you create different action options in advance. You will then be less likely to be surprised on site and you will ensure a safe working environment for yourself and your colleagues. Of course, you always have to be able to switch when things turn out differently. But it is the first step you can take. No matter how small it may be. That you think before you do something and don't rush into the situation impulsively."

Control of attention

This also applies if, as a Police Officer, you arrive at a tense situation. Olaf: "You may think that you should immediately jump on the one who is the most aggressive. Or the one that makes the most noise. What we teach students with attention control of mental strength is that you first 'scan'. What do I see and what is the risk? You look at the hands, the body and risks in the environment. That's a viewing pattern. That only works when your mind, your attention and your objective are focused on that goal.

The moment you immediately start a conversation, tunnel vision arises. You no longer see what is happening around you. Because the attention is then on the conversation, on the other person. If you allow yourself to be captured by the chaos, you will end up with uncontrolled work. We give this to the students at the front. It is also related to working safely."

Feel what it's like to fail

Students may know the theory, but they also have to experience it. "As a student you can say: "I have complete control over myself". That may be true, until we press the right button for you too. Then something happens to you too. That is interesting. From there you start learning. And you can also improve. In education we have simulations with training actors. In some cases, you may use physical violence against those actors. I always say: "you must all have felt what it's like to fail at some point. To come out stronger afterwards."

Sometimes we organize a physical exercise that makes it seem like an easy arrest. If the students feel they are in control of the situation, we allow them to completely lose control. During such an exercise we coach and guide the students to make them stronger. And let's let them reflect on their actions and the feeling they get from it."

To trust

In the second year, the supervisors of the professional practical internships and OBT take over working with the mental tools and further strengthening resilience. After the training, during daily work in police practice, attention is also paid to the resilience of colleagues. "Mental strength is not just about physical resilience. But also about other difficult moments in police work", says Olaf. "Like delivering bad news. Or dealing with a serious traffic accident where you have been on the scene."

The most resilient students are the students who can describe what is happening to them. Or who dare to say that things are not going well for them. Because they are in touch with their inner self.

Olaf Sichterman, lecturer D at the Netherlands Police Academy in Amsterdam

"Mental strength is also important during the debriefing after a serious case or incident. For example, with the action-reflection model. What was I going to do in this situation? What finally happened? What have I done and what do I learn from it? This puts the incident into perspective. And there is room to talk about it with each other, to share what it has done to you. A good debriefing is not about looking for mistakes. But to causes so that we can learn from them. This creates trust. Trust in each other, in each other's abilities and in their ability to learn."

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