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Stress Inoculation

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Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Medford police go over movements during a training scenario de-escalating a workplace situation.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Medford police practice a training scenario aimed at de-escalating a workplace situation.
Medford police resume in-person deescalation training after a forced year off due to the pandemic

On the first day of Jackson County’s return to extreme COVID-19 restrictions, Medford police officers gathered in person for a series of training scenarios that Sgt. Jason Antley likened to a “stress vaccine.”

Antley, who is the Medford police defensive tactics supervisor, conducted training exercises Friday with about 20 officers at an old warehouse owned by the city. The trainings covered topics ranging from defensive tactics in dangerous situations to ways to de-escalate situations without force.

Despite ample protective gear and officers’ duty weapons being swapped out for inert ones, the goal of the training scenarios was to raise the temperature in heated scenarios and keep the stress level high.

In one training exercise, Officer Serena Ettinger played the role of an employee being fired from an office. Ettinger would raise the stress level — but not the level of danger — by shouting and throwing a stack of papers at the boss in the scenario, played by training facilitator Sgt. Rebecca Pietila.

Officer Mike Wulff kept calm, instructed the boss to leave the room, and with open-handed gestures encouraged the employee in the scenario to relax.

“Let’s not throw papers at each others’ faces,” Wulff said. “We’re all adults.”

Similar to an actual upset person, Ettinger doesn’t instantly calm down. Wulff’s calm demeanor, however, prevented the situation from escalating.

A few argumentative, but progressively less-heated exchanges later, Ettinger sighs and asks, “So, what’s next?”

"You and I are going to cruise outside,” Wulff says, offering to help her find work and assures her, “you’re not in trouble at all.”

Not all of the scenarios end as amicably as Wulff’s. In a variation of the same scenario, Ettinger pulls a knife. The weapon means that the employee is no longer just disorderly, but a threat.

As soon as the knife came out, Officer Mike Jackson immediately pulled his firearm, and seconds later deployed his Taser.

“Get on the ground, get on the ground!” Jackson shouts, calling for backup and ordering the employee on her stomach. “Drop the knife!”

Jackson told Pietila afterward that he took charge because he saw the knife as “at least somewhat of a lethal threat,” and then noticed that the employee was trying to use the knife to harm herself.

“Kind of what’s going through my head is she’s not really tackling any of us ... so now I’m trying to protect her life essentially,” Jackson said.

Pietila then encouraged Jackson to think about his blocking and movement in the room.

“Could you have done anything else movement-wise to make this (space) safer for you?” Pietila asked.

“I could’ve probably stepped back closer to the door,” Jackson said.

Pietila nodded.

Other heightened scenarios included a teen causing a disturbance in the house because he’s grounded and just lost his cellphone.

The key component of the training is stress, Antley said, and lots of it. The term officers hear starting at the academy level is “stress inoculation.”

“The idea is we’re training them to make good decisions under extreme stress,” Antley said. “We’re giving them a stress vaccine.”

Medford police train as a department on a different topic every month. One month it’ll be updates on mental health, another it’ll be vehicle pursuit techniques. Prior to the pandemic, these scenario-based in-person training sessions would occur about four times a year.

“It’s been close to maybe a year,” Antley said. “We have to get some of this under our belts.”

The training hardly ignored the pandemic. For instance, Medford police all wore face masks during the training exercises.

“We’re not, like, rolling around on the ground,” Antley said.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.