Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Road to Reserves - Narcotics Team, Mental Health Response, & Range 6

Remember when I said we’d had our final day at the range? Well, I was wrong.

Rather than luxuriate in our first two-day weekend in three months, our group of seven County reserve recruits spent Saturday doing additional firearms drills. Sure enough, we learned a thing or two.

First though, we got to hear from two special response teams from whom we will be able to request assistance.

Narcotics Team

The Westside Interagency Narcotics (WIN) team is composed of representatives from a number of local law enforcement agencies, as well as the Oregon National Guard Counter-Drug Program, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Drug Enforcement Agency.

This team generally handles mid- to high-level narcotics cases, including surveillance, search warrants, investigations, and clandestine lab processing. As reserve deputies working with regular full-time deputies, we can call upon WIN representatives to assist with complex drug cases.

We learned about the various types of narcotics commonly found in Washington County. Many drugs, such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine, come in different forms with different “high” duration lengths. The street value for these substances also varies a great deal.

While we will carry test kits to determine whether an unknown substance is in fact a narcotic, it will be important for us to be able to visually recognize drug paraphernalia we might find in legally authorized searches of individuals or vehicles.

We chatted briefly about the upcoming legalization of recreational marijuana possession and use on July 1, 2015. The impact of this change on the work of law enforcement professionals remains to be seen.

The extraction of THC-concentrated BHO (butane honey or butane hash oil) from marijuana plants is a dangerous process that can sometimes cause extreme and potentially life-threatening explosions. We may be called to an unexplained fire or explosion, only to determine that narcotics manufacturing played a role. Only a couple days after our WIN class, another hash oil explosion story hit the news.

Mental Health Response

It is no surprise that mental health issues play a significant role in many of law enforcement’s calls for service and the custodies entering the Washington County Jail. Peace officers in Washington County are fortunate to enjoy the assistance of several mental health related resources.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) Mental Health Response Team (MHRT) involves patrol deputies riding with trained mental health clinicians from LifeWorks Northwest. These teams respond to calls for service involving a mental health component and can help de-escalate crisis situations.

MHRT duos are staffed from 11:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., seven days a week. If a deputy or officer encounters someone with mental illness outside these hours and needs support, they can call the Washington County Crisis Line for a phone consultation. Additionally, staff from the Washington County Crisis Team (separate from MHRT) may be dispatched to the scene if needed.

Alarmingly, we were told one in five adults will experience mental illness in any given year, and one in twenty will have a serious mental illness event. As a result, MHRT’s other services are very valuable. They range from helping to determine if an individual should be hospitalized to advocating for clients and helping families develop safety plans and treatment options.

We talked about how best to communicate with individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. Understanding the symptoms of common mental illnesses may help us achieve a calm and productive dialogue.

Active listening skills will be useful in many of our reserve deputy duties. We talked about specific techniques to build rapport with a distressed or angry person, such as using open-ended questions to draw out the root cause of their emotions.

Some students participated in “Back to Back” exercises at the front of the room. Sitting in chairs and facing away from one another, one candidate would play the role of peace officer and the other would be barricaded subject. The officer was tasked with initiating a conversation and attempting to build trust with the subject in order to convince him to surrender and agree to get help.

It is beginning to sound appealing to eventually join just about every special team we hear from!

Take a look at our WCSO Mental Health Response page or the Washington County Crisis Services page for more information. If you have concern for a friend or loved one suffering from mental health crisis, you can call the Washington County Crisis Line at 503-291-9111.

Range 6

Turns out warm and rainy beats cold and clear at the range. Saturday morning was very cold and I spent the first few hours shivering under my many layers.

We started with a cold qualification, in which I shot a 92%. Still not as high as I would like, but better than last week’s score. We all qualified with no problem and it was good to see we had retained our needed skills.

The WCSO requires all paid and unpaid (reserve) deputies to demonstrate certain skills outside of the qualification rounds. These “performance observations” are timed drills we each did individually.

Keep a pocket full of rounds at the range
The most challenging performance observation was to perform a combat reload and fire two rounds in less than five seconds. We began with an empty gun and magazine, with the slide locked open (as though the gun had run dry when firing). We were instructed to eject the empty magazine, insert a new one, rack the slide to load a round into the chamber, and fire two rounds accurately.

When we were all found to be completing this task too slowly, we practiced again and again and again. The next time we attempted to complete the task in under five seconds, thankfully we were all successful.

We also performed a number of frustrating, but helpful injury drills. We were asked to consider how we would effectively draw, fire, reload, and handle malfunctions if one of our arms was taken out of commission. Say, for example, our dominant hand received a gunshot injury or we dislocated a shoulder.

Completely operating a firearm with only your support hand is extremely difficult. Even breaking holster retention and drawing a pistol from the dominant side of your body with your support hand is tricky. We learned how to safely hold our pistol between our knees in order to turn it around or insert a new magazine.

See the dirt by my front sight?
The most surprising skill was learning how to rack the slide of our pistol with only one hand. With my strong hand I was able to hook my sights on the back of my holster and forcefully rack the slide. On my support side, however, I had to kneel down and rack it on the bottom of my boot! As you can see, I ended the day with a filthy duty weapon.

We also managed to squeeze in some practice firing around barrels at the 25-yard line, which is the component of qualification rounds I needed to work on the most. Two magazines and some personalized instruction later, I saw an improvement.

The day ended with a PowerPoint presentation about off-duty concealed carry and how to keep ourselves and our family members safe now that we will run the risk of being recognized by offenders when out in public.


View from the passenger seat
I spent much of Sunday on my first patrol ride along since the academy began. It was a lot of fun to get out on the road, scanning for traffic violations and responding to calls for service. Getting to see concepts implemented in real life, when I had only previously discussed and analyzed some of them in class, was a plus. 

The ride demonstrated how much I still need to learn. In talking with coworkers after the fact, I see this is the beauty of our line of work. 

Certified deputies will experience something new and different every single day they’re at work. And on top of that, the WCSO offers a wide array of special teams and collateral duties to further broaden our experience. We will continue to learn every time we hit the road or enter the jail!

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