‘Goal is de-escalate:’ Behind the scenes of St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office recruitment training

ST. JOHNS, Fla. — The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office is recruiting more deputies to avoid a future staffing shortage. This comes as the county continues to expand.

Law enforcement personnel and recruits currently train at a new state-of-the-art facility, called the Emergency Communications and Training Center (ECTC). It’s a multi-phase project, currently in phase one. Down the road, the facility will house a fleet building, central supply, and possibly the Sheriff’s Office itself.


“We try to make sure that we have the best, the most state of the art and the most technically advanced training that we can possibly give our new recruits and our current employees,” Lieutenant George Harrigan said. “Our training staff is out here. We have a driving track. We have a range of facilities. We have a defensive tactics room, technology-based training, and VR simulators. Anything you can imagine, we do it out here in this facility.”

Action News Jax, Meghan Moriarty, went to the training center off of I-95 and SR-16. She got a chance to go through two hours of what’s called “high liability trainings” to see what it’s like to be in a deputy’s shoes, and how doing this in a controlled environment can assist in de-escalating high-stress situations.

“There are rare situations where someone escalates, and we have to respond to that and sometimes that could involve use of force,” Lieutenant Harrigan said.

Using deadly force is not the first and not the only thing a deputy trains for. Arguably, one of the most important training tactics doesn’t involve guns or vehicles.

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“It’s important to note that we don’t train for worst case scenario every time. Our goal is to de-escalate the situation with as little use of force or no use of force,” Lieutenant Harrigan said. “A lot of what we do is training to deescalate with our words and our actions and just talk to people.”

They use virtual reality simulators so law enforcement personnel and recruits can practice how to handle a situation. Just like in real life, the trainee doesn’t know what will be thrown at them.

“Training in law enforcement or in general creates a controlled environment where we can go through the reps,” Lieutenant Harrigan said. “We can go through scenarios.”

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Some of the scenarios involve a suspicious person. Others involve a house call for a domestic violence incident. Afterward, the trainee and trainer discuss how the virtual situation was handled and other ways to approach the situation.

“We can create stress and go through that stress, and make mistakes in a controlled environment,” Lieutenant Harrigan said. “Learn from those mistakes so we won’t make those mistakes out in the open, in the public, during a real scenario.”

The Sheriff’s Office is currently hiring. Starting salaries range from $55,000-$57,750. You can apply here. You can also connect with a recruiter by emailing recruitor@sjso.org.

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