Safety-Care Training in Everyday Situations

Recently, I came across a news story about Chicago Department of Aviation officer James Long. You may not recognize his name, but he is the officer who was fired for forcibly dragging a 69-year-old passenger off of a United Airlines flight back in April 2017. Long is now suing the airline, his former employers, and the city of Chicago for a couple of different reasons, but his main reason caught my attention: he is alleging that his company failed to properly train him to handle incidents like the one that occurred.

Now, I am not condoning Mr. Long’s treatment of the passenger in any way. Like everyone else, I was horrified to see the man dragged down the aisle of an airplane. Most of us like to think that we would have handled the situation much differently, conveying toward this person more understanding, dignity and empathy. However, it does beg the question: what did Long’s training include? I wonder this because it’s always on my mind when I think about all of us who work in human services, police officers, and really, anyone who might have to work with someone who is exhibiting escalated behavior. Have they been told or shown what to do if someone becomes belligerent and/or aggressive? If not, we (meaning supervisors, trainers, administrators) at each organization have the responsibility to work proactively, rather than reactively, to make sure that people are prepared for what they might encounter.

It’s not fair to focus on an employee’s inappropriate reaction if we haven’t shown that person what to do instead.

It’s not fair to expect a person just to know how to handle someone who is screaming at them while they’re trying to do their job, much less someone who starts punching or biting them. We probably all have different histories on how we would deal with these types of things before we received training and gained experience in the course of our current careers.

I once had an employee respond “Well, he hit me; I was just defending myself” after she hit an adult with developmental disabilities with whom she was working in an adult day program. Most would say common sense dictates that it’s not okay to hit a client. Ever. But Aubrey Daniels makes an interesting point about common sense in his book “Bringing Out the Best in People” (2000, p. 11). He notes that “common sense” is drawn from each person’s own experience, and since we don’t all have the same experiences in life, common sense is actually pretty individualized.

Daniels asserts: “When someone asks, ‘Why didn’t you use your common sense?’ he or she is really asking, ‘Why didn’t you do what I would have done?”

The point is that we need to make sure employees know what to do if someone takes a swing at them or responds in a verbally aggressive way before we send them out to work with potentially vulnerable individuals.

Now, I am not saying that Mr. Long should take Safety-Care; although, I would argue that most people would benefit from learning and practicing Safety-Care verbal de-escalation strategies. I have no idea if he was trained to handle verbally escalated individuals before this incident. He may well have been. But it does present us with a cautionary tale. We need to make sure people are trained before being sent to communicate with individuals on the verge of crisis. To neglect this duty is to invite potential inhumane treatment, injuries (or death), and, perhaps –in extreme cases — somewhat understandable lawsuit.

Master Trainer, Robyn Shimmin