KNOXVILLE — The Knoxville Police Department opened the doors of the Phil Keith Training Facility to the Tennessee football family this past weekend and opened the eyes of the student-athletes to the day-to-day challenges officers face.
Through a variety of training and experience exercises, the Volunteers found many similarities between their preparation and reliance on teammates on the gridiron, and what the officers experience in the field.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to get out here and see what these guys do day-in and day-out,” senior quarterback Justin Worley said. “They preach some of the same things we do in terms of being a team and a family.”
Beyond the shared philosophies, the event helps foster a positive relationship between the team and the officers by building relationships between players and officers.
“It’s an opportunity for our staff, their staff, the officers and the players to get together and break down the barriers,” Knoxville Chief of Police David Rausch said of the third-annual event. “That’s the key to this whole thing, to help the players understand what we do in law enforcement and also to help our officers to interact with the players so they can see we’re all the same.”
The message of teamwork was illustrated by the stations players visited after being broken into groups led by a KPD officer.
There were fun stations, like the K-9 demonstration, where players donned large protective suits before trying to outrun some of the department’s K-9 officers. Officers did not keep a record of exactly how many athletes tried the drill, but the K-9’s remained undefeated.
The Driving Course took the athletes on rides with KPD driving instructors around the training track, which features turns, a skid pad and a wet weather simulation.
“I think it’s good to continue to reinforce the relationships that we’re building with the officers,” Vol for Life Coordinator Antoine Davis said. “It’s eye-opening when they see how in control the officers are in everything they do.”
The ride-along became very real for the players thanks to an eye-opening talk from officer Andrew Olson, who was injured in the line of duty during a 2011 traffic stop. Olson showed each group the dashboard camera video of the pursuit and stop, including the suspect coming out of his vehicle shooting a firearm. Despite a gunshot wound, Olson was able to radio for help from his fellow officers. Some came to his aid, others used the description he gave to make an arrest minutes later. It was a lesson in teamwork and persistence that left the room silent.
“Something we talk a lot about is ... teamwork; the efforts of the football team and the efforts of our officers are very similar,” Rausch said. “We also want to get across to them the seriousness of what we do in law enforcement.”
The athletes also got to see a sniper and explosives demonstration from the department’s Special Operations Unit and took turns in the Firearms Training Simulator, which uses video of real locations and actors to simulate situations that officers face in the line of duty. The simulator put participants in potentially life-and-death situations during which officers have to make a split-second decision with their weapons.
The simulator also forced teammates to work together in interacting with the simulated suspects and citizens, while the rest of the group helped the officers analyze how each pair handled the situation.
“It’s a lot of fun for us,” senior Curt Maggitt said. “But the most important thing is it’s a team-building event for us and building relationships with the men and women in law enforcement.”
One Vol that had been through the program in previous years made a recent return to the Training Facility, not as a visitor, but as a recruit. Rausch talked about Raiques Crump, a linebacker from 2010-13, who will complete the Training Academy as an officer in July.
“That’s a positive for us as well,” Rausch said. “We’ve been able to recruit somebody that is going to stay in this area and use their talents. That’s a bonus for us.”