Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Road to Reserves - Traffic Crashes, Warrior Mindset, & Defensive Tactics 3

Get ready to read a whole lot about what it’s like to have your eyeballs drenched in pepper spray. What a special, memorable event – it makes for great dinner conversation!

Some part of me is glad to have experienced something so unique, however painful it was.  Keep reading to learn what it felt like, why our class was required to go through this, and how long it took us to recover!

Class 13 – Traffic Crashes

Tuesday evening brought a presentation from members of the interagency Crash Analysis Reconstruction Team (CART). These individuals discussed the peace officer’s role in crash investigations, the importance of maintaining a safe scene, the role of CART, and different types of roadway evidence.

A vehicle crash can be a serious incident that may disrupt traffic, pull many resources to one location, and potentially result in injury or death.  It is imperative that a peace officer travel quickly but safely to these scenes to protect life, secure any potential evidence, and restore order.

The CART members explained roadway evidence commonly found at traffic crashes – all things we should keep an eye out for, take care not to disrupt, and document as part of our initial investigation.  This can include tire marks, gouges in the asphalt, fluid trails or debris.

Using mathematical formulas and specialized software, investigators are able to examine this evidence and then determine vehicle speeds, locations, directions of movement, and more. Fortunately, as a reserve deputy, I’ll get to leave all the fancy math and science stuff up to the CART members.

Deputies and officers do, however, need to know how to measure and chart traffic crash scenes. We were shown different techniques to utilize and discussed the importance of obtaining as many photographs of a crash scene as possible. You never know what small piece of photo evidence could make or break an investigation.

We ended the night viewing photographs of crash scenes. As sobering and grisly as these photos may have been, they prepare us for what we will see out on the road.

Class 14 – Warrior Mindset & Officer Survival

Sitting in a classroom, listening to lectures, and even participating in defensive tactics training on the mats can’t fully convey the seriousness and potential danger of the situations we may encounter after graduation.

It’s easy to think about all the exciting things law enforcement work may hold – chasing after bad guys, firearms training, and solving crimes – adrenaline rushes, the stuff of movies. We must remember, however, that someday we may find ourselves in a battle for our life.

We talked about the physical symptoms of very high, critical incident related stress. Hopefully, by being aware of what to expect and learning methods like tactical breathing to combat the overwhelming stress, we will more successfully work through challenging incidents while maintaining our composure and health.

Our instructor showed several videos of officer-involved shootings, where peace officers were either seriously injured or killed by a subject’s gunfire.  The purpose was not to second guess any officer’s actions or decisions, but to observe the tremendous stress reaction that can result from these scenarios.

Every individual’s response to that stress is different, but the most inspiring individuals went into the encounter with a survival mindset, a will to live, and a commitment to fighting with every breath and ounce of energy they had. 

It may come as a surprise that after this warrior mindset discussion, our class received the message that it’s okay to withdraw from the reserve program. If after honestly assessing ourselves, our abilities, and the realities of police work, we decide to bow out of the academy, that decision will be met with full acceptance from our trainers.

As peace officers, whether paid or volunteer, our full commitment is required. If we realize we are unable to wholly commit to our training and a resilient mindset, it is our duty to share that fact with our instructors in order to protect ourselves, other peace officers, and the public.

I’m proud to say our group hasn’t lost any members.  At this point, we are still fighting strong with our full class of 14 candidates.

Class 15 - Defensive Tactics 3

Our tremendously kind and understanding defensive tactics instructors, in realizing that Saturday, February 14th is Valentine’s Day, decided to douse us with pepper spray a week early instead of on the 14th as planned.

First, we needed to tackle our proper defensive stance and then move on to striking. For those of us who don’t have prior martial arts, boxing or wrestling experience, it takes some instruction to solidify the correct defensive stance and arm placement. I need to work on keeping my elbows in tight to my body.

We paired up and worked on palm strikes. One person would hold up gloved hands and the “officer” role player would alternate striking with their left and right palms.  We moved on to knee strikes and a type of foot strike.

After a few slow speed practice rounds, we donned headgear, mouth guards, and boxing gloves for some sparring practice. I had never done anything at all like this activity before, so it was very exciting to hit the mat with my partner and start trying to get good strikes on him.  All of these new, previously daunting DT activities are turning out to be a LOT of fun.

We returned from lunch and snacked on some tasty homemade “bloodshot eyeball” cookies a classmate had brought to share.

Our class listened to a short presentation about oleoresin capsicum (OC spray), commonly referred to as “pepper spray.” Of most interest to us as a class were the decontamination steps, since we knew we would all be exposed to OC within the hour.  We also learned about proper use of the spray canister and the myriad physical effects it causes.

The purpose of spraying each of us candidates with OC was twofold. Most important, this experience would demonstrate to each of us that we possess the mental toughness to fight through intense pain.  We would accomplish this by completing a series of tasks while under the effects of the spray.

We would also now personally experience the type and degree of force we may someday use on another person. This will allow us to better elaborate in our written report why that use of force was appropriate for the situation.

And so it begins. You stand outside in front of an instructor who sprays OC on your closed eyes. He instructs you to open your eyes and blink.

Look closely to see the stream of OC spray!
Moments later, the pain hits. Your eyes slam shut and are nearly impossible to open again. You must open them to see where you’re going, but doing so only increases the intense burning sensation.  The skin on your face feels scorching hot, irritated, and sensitive to touch. Your nose starts to run and mucous collects in your throat. Your breathing becomes choppy and erratic.

With a partner by your side, you jog over to one side of the parking lot and inflict ten baton strikes and ten knee strikes on an instructor holding a big defense pad. Simultaneously, you yell a command of your choice at the “suspect” while your partner counts off the strikes.  Like many of your classmates, you yell “Get back!” repeatedly.

From there you run to another area of the parking lot and take handcuffs from an instructor and proceed to handcuff him. Much of this is done by touch as you struggle to keep your eyes cracked open. Tears run down your face.

You run back toward the building where the last task is to place ten Simunition cartridges (non-lethal paint bullets used for training) into individual holes in a tray. By now, your hands are shaking and your breath is ragged. You might drop cartridges and have to feel around to find them again. You may make guttural moaning noises from the discomfort.

Success! You fought through the sting and were victorious. It’s finally time to stick your head in a bucket of cold water and scrub your face and eyes with baby shampoo. You might alternate blinking your eyes toward the bottom of the bucket and raising a hose to your face to rinse off.  Eventually you’ll feel well enough to abandon the water, but your face and eyes continue to burn as you walk around in the fresh air.

Ten minutes, then twenty minutes pass. At times you might start to feel an improvement, but then the OC seems to spontaneously reactivate. Your skin and eyes are flushed red.  Slowly you’re able to open your eyes enough to be able to walk around without a guide. Only air, water, and time will provide you solace.

By the book, recovery is expected to take 8-45 minutes.  Most of us, however, could still feel lingering effects from the OC when we woke up Sunday morning.

Now we have getting tased to look forward to next Saturday! These are exciting times.


This was quite a week!  As the classes progress, the topics we cover tend to become more intense, increasingly challenging, and sometimes troubling, but our resolve to succeed grows stronger.

Training with one another, learning side by side, and sharing these exciting experiences serves to solidify our growing bond as a class. This bond is particularly important because these will be the other peace officers who have our back out on the road or in the jail.

As one of my classmates said to me Saturday, “When we started the academy, I never imagined I’d someday be cleaning OC out of your ears.” Sounds like a quality relationship to me.

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