Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Road to Reserves - Forensics, Search and Seizure, & Defensive Tactics 4

What could be more exciting than feeling the spark of love on Valentine’s Day?

Oh wait - that was just the shock of a Taser.

Prior to being exposed to OC (pepper spray) and getting tased, I heard a lot of heated debate about which of the two experiences various peace officers would rather avoid. I’m happy to say I can now weigh in with my own educated opinion.

Any guesses?

Class 16 - Forensics & Evidence

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) provides forensic analysis and property/evidence management services for the cities and unincorporated county jurisdiction. The WCSO presently employees a forensic unit supervisor, three property evidence technicians, two crime scene technicians, and two criminalists.  One of these criminalists presented to our class.

Due to the frequency of less-than-realistic portrayals of forensics staff in the media, it was important to get a clear idea of what services these units actually provide. Forensics work can be grueling, requiring long, odd hours in inclement weather conditions.  Reality check: test results don’t come back instantaneously and our female criminalists and CSTs definitely do not wear heels to crime scenes.

We learned about the different services the criminalists and crime scene technicians offer, such as crime scene processing, bloodstain pattern analysis, shoe and tire impressions, and latent fingerprint identification.

CSI: Beaverton coming soon
As first responders to major crime scenes, we must have an understanding of scene preservation. It is imperative we protect evidence so it remains untouched and useful when forensics staff arrives to document and collect it.  

We may also be called upon to take photographs of evidence or lifting latent fingerprints at the scenes of less serious crimes. Our instructor brought tools for us to practice lifting fingerprints ourselves.

We donned blue latex gloves and dusted compact discs and soda cans. Lifting prints with packing tape and properly adhering them to print lift cards takes some practice.  So does keeping the black fingerprint powder contained and not accidentally smearing it all over your face!

Class 17 - Search & Seizure

A Beaverton officer with an expansive knowledge of search and seizure law presented to us on Thursday night. This topic is especially vital to our work as reserve deputies, and it’s also often changing. New case law is constantly being established and impacting how we do business as peace officers while ensuring the public’s constitutional rights are upheld.

If we reasonably suspect an individual or a location possesses evidence of a crime, we should first consider getting a search warrant signed by a judge in order for us to search the person or place and seize the evidence we find.

There are times when obtaining a search warrant may not be reasonable or a prudent first option due to the circumstances. If this is the case, there are 13 search warrant exceptions, or situations in which we can search without a warrant if we can articulate certain factors.

Peace officers may frequently encounter some of these specific opportunities to search without a warrant. We can expect to eventually conduct searches that fall under the incident to arrest, automobile, and consent exceptions, for example.

All three of these categories of searches have certain criteria that must be met before the search can be conducted. It is incumbent on a peace officer to have a comprehensive understanding of these search and seizure protocols so he or she can make quick but accurate decisions in the field.  The officer must be ready to back up their decision to search in their written report and potentially on the stand.

Class 18 - Defensive Tactics 4

We started bright and early Saturday morning with baton familiarization and drills. With a partner, we practiced delivering a few specific baton strikes to a training pad with a big, foam training baton. Eventually we moved on to using our issued, expandable batons.

"Sheriff's Office, you are under arrest."
Once we had the tactics down, we formed a circle around the edge of the training mats. One at a time each student stepped into the middle of the circle to face a training instructor wearing a full suit of protective gear. For 30 seconds the student attempted to control the advancing “suspect” by using baton strikes, defensive movement, and commands.

Thirty seconds feels like a very long time when someone is trying to attack you.

Our third drill of the morning involved having a second suspect join the first. After a period of time protecting ourselves against both suspects at once, a cover officer (one of our classmates) would arrive to assist us. First big adrenaline rush of the day.

After a group lunch, we knew getting tased was imminent. Our instructors recognized we were not going to be able to focus on lecture with the “stunning” experience ahead of us.

We gathered back on the mats and three of us were chosen to come to the front. Two of us stood on either side of a third classmate, held on to his wrists and upper arms, and braced ourselves. An instructor attached each of the Taser’s two prongs to the candidate’s clothing with alligator clips. I could feel my classmate’s pulse pounding in his wrist while my heart pounded in my chest.

The candidate gave the go ahead that he was ready and our instructor initiated the five second electrical current.

Next it was my turn. The clips were attached high on my right shoulder blade and the other down near my waist.  I breathed out right before our instructor pulled the trigger of the Taser. The pain was concentrated between the two prongs, but my whole body was affected. All of my muscles sharply and instantaneously contracted at once and I arched backward, gritting my teeth, and clenching my fists tight.

I knew to anticipate a countdown from three seconds, but it felt like five seconds should have been long done by the time the instructor announced “three, two, one” from behind me.  The pain was so strong and so comprehensive that I was barely breathing. I couldn’t wait to feel relief.

Finally, the five seconds were up and immediately the pain left my body. I was left a bit weak-kneed and shaky from the shock to my system, but other than that I felt fine.

My assessment that getting tased hurts more than being exposed to OC, but between the two I’d still rather experience the Taser since the experience is so succinct, with no lasting symptoms.

We returned to the classroom for a long PowerPoint presentation from the manufacturers of Taser and then back to the mats for some hands on training. We did two exercises to practice loading real cartridges and firing our newly issued Tasers.

As with OC, it wasn’t arbitrary that we were required to be exposed to the Taser. Now we know exactly what it feels like and have seen the effect of different prong placements on different individuals. 

We also know what kind of reaction we should expect if we deploy our Taser. If a suspect is unaffected by what should be a debilitating pulse of electricity, we must assess what other factors may be at play (i.e. drug use). We should also be ready to transition to a different tool in order to gain control of the individual and keep the public and ourselves safe.


I found this to be a mentally challenging week. We are gearing up for our first written exam on Tuesday, February 24th, so we’re all studying for that while simultaneously being provided new information and new physical techniques to master.

Participating in the reserve academy requires a certain mental toughness as well as endurance. We completed almost 20 intensive classes to date, but are not even halfway through this adventure. The coming weeks should be interesting as we shift toward Thursday evening defensive tactics classes and hours and hours of firearms and range time on the weekends.

I’ve recently noticed a quiet shift - it’s becoming more natural to envision myself as uniformed reserve deputy. As we started with classes and being issued various pieces of equipment, I felt inexperienced and apprehensive. Our tools felt foreign in my hand.

Now, putting on my duty belt seems more comfortable and my bruises from training feel like badges of accomplishment. I can only imagine how prepared and well-trained we will all feel by the end of the academy.

Suffice it to say, anywhere in Washington County seems like a great place to start a career in law enforcement or corrections.

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