Sunday, April 3, 2005

The next time a Metro Transit Police officer is tempted to arrest someone for eating a candy bar or french fry on the train the officer may think twice.

A mandatory training workshop for about 380 officers is wrapping up this week. It is designed to help officers better understand their reactions to tense situations and think of new ways to resolve conflicts. Officers said they meet downright hostile behavior from passengers almost daily, and customers who purportedly refuse to comply with officers have created some high-profile conflicts.

“There’s a different generation out there,” said Sgt. Bobbie Stifter, one of 28 officers who attended the daylong training session Friday. “With this generation, they’re not as inclined to be cooperative — they’re confrontational a lot of the times.”

But Sgt. Stifter said she’s not just talking about young people. She has run into such conflicts with 40- and 50-year-olds.

Metro hired outside consultants to conduct the conflict management training courses at a cost of about $28,000. Police Chief Polly Hanson said it has turned out to be the best training many officers have had.

It’s all about having the officers identify their dominant personality traits and conflict management styles, said Robert Pruitt, who conducted the training.

Mr. Pruitt leads officers through role-playing exercises ranging from how to deal with minor offenses such as having food on the Metro to a near riot on a Metrobus.

“Sometimes what we find is officers go into situations because of history,” said Mr. Pruitt, who is married to a Montgomery County police officer. “If we’re not aware of what we’re doing, we’ll do it the same way every time.”

Mr. Pruitt asked the officers to constantly assess what they are thinking and whether they are making the situation better or worse. But he didn’t suggest that they be less aggressive in their work.

“If it’s about survival, you just may need to,” Mr. Pruitt said.

Chief Hanson said training could change the way officers approach passengers, but she doesn’t expect significant changes.

“I don’t know that we had significant problems,” Chief Hanson said. “I just want to make sure I’m giving them every tool that they can possibly have to be the most effective.”

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