Communicating during emergencies is critical to success

Carrigan Bennett- Sergeant & Highway Police Officer, Aurora Police Department, Aurora, Colorado

Article | Aurora, CO | 11 October 2021
As a first responder to many incidents, including the 2012 mass shootings in Aurora, Carrigan says you have to accept a certain level of risk. He feels confident in these situations given his training, effective teamwork with his fellow police officers and an interest in public service. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
“No one is ever happy to see me! But they're happy to see the firefighter show up even though we’re in the same boat!” jokes Carrigan Bennett, a sergeant with the Aurora Police Department in Aurora, Colorado.

Emerging from the Police Headquarters, Bennett is heading out for his once-a-week shift as a uniformed highway patrol officer. “I also work off duty for the Regional Transportation District, (RTD),” shares Carrigan of another job he has. The RTD is the public transit service serving over 3 million people in the Denver, Aurora, and Boulder areas of Colorado.

Carrigan attributes his professional and academic trainings for preparing him well for his jobs. “I have a master’s degree in Emergency Management and Business Continuity from Boston University and an undergrad from CU Boulder,” he says. “The police academy training is just over six months and then there’s about a 14-week field training and additional training after that. I’ve done a lot of different trainings.”

“Laws are constantly changing and especially in my role as an emergency manager. Not just locally but at state and federal levels, so, it takes a lot of learning and willingness to change how you’re operating to be most efficient in your job, “remarks Bennett.

His enthusiasm and bright outlook on lifelong learning has qualified him to work in natural and man-made disaster response efforts, including the 2012 Aurora movie theater mass shooting which killed 12 people and injured 70.

“I was deployed to the Florida Keys for Hurricane Irma, I’ve been to wildfires, and I was on the command post for the Aurora theater shooting. I’ve also worked a lot of officer funerals and large protests.”

Carrigan’s work requires strong interpersonal skills. His interface with victims, potential suspects and community members during a wide range of encounters require effective communications to properly resolve these situations. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
“The exciting part about emergency management law enforcement is that you don’t know exactly what your job is going to be. You have a general title, but any given day is going to be a different story,” Carrigan notes.

“For the theater shooting, I was a detective, an organizer for the command posts, a situation unit leader, a planning section chief and then I was a squad leader for the security squad we had during the 10,000-person memorial,” he says with a sombre expression.

About the dangers and risky nature of his job as a first responder, Carrigan says matter of factly, “it’s just a job, you don’t think about that. You have to accept a certain level of risk.”

“I feel very confident that our Police Academy trained me very well, and I have a lot of confidence. I got shot at my first week on the road and it was like nothing. The training must have kicked in because I don't actually remember what happened, but I had my gun out and I was in the right spot. A lot of good training, protective equipment, and then reliance on your fellow officers who have your back helps,” he says, stressing how important camaraderie is among police officers.

“Interpersonal communications,” Bennet says is the most essential skill needed for his job. “I interact with people all the time, and I interact with them at their worst possible time. I have to communicate with victims, the person we’re going to place under arrest, and at meetings with all different levels of government and private citizens.”

Using technology for his work, has been a great advantage for Carrigan. “The ability to have electronic information and computerized reports is immensely powerful for solving crimes,” he says, in comparison to manually going through stacks of papers and files. Virtual sharing of information during a crisis and geographic mapping, have also been great benefits.

In addition to being a full-time sergeant with the Aurora Police Department, Carrigan Bennett also works off-duty for Colorado’s RTD. He believes his academic and professional training have prepared him well to work in these various law enforcement settings. ILO Photos/ John Isaac
Being able to support his family, is a big part of what work means to Bennett. Solving puzzles and providing solutions, are what he enjoys and is good at. “We like to be busy. We need to be in control, and we need to be just constantly working,” he says of himself and his teammates in emergency management.

As a father, his hope for his children is that they learn to communicate well and do not become overly dependent on social media, something he expresses concerns about. “I hope they learn to be social, not on social media, but in person. Communication, clubs, and sports, all help us be better and develop social and critical thinking skills.”

Good community relations, trust, and communication between the police and the communities they serve, are what Carrigan says must be drastically improved. With this improvement perhaps community members will also begin to view police officers positively, as they do firefighters.