Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Road to Reserves - Finish the Fight, Hallway Drills, & Building Searches

Thank you to everyone who submitted an application for the 2016 Washington County Reserve Academy!  I am very excited for all of you as you begin the testing process and move closer to your goals. 

Perhaps one of you will be sharing your story here next year!

Finish the Fight

Law enforcement professionals receive hundreds of hours of training on topics such as defensive tactics, firearms, and radio usage. We still see, however, a number of real-life deadly threat events in which peace officers react in ways that further compromise their safety.

We previously learned about the physical symptoms these high-stress situations may create, such as tunnel vision, significantly elevated heart rate, and auditory exclusion.

These physiological effects can affect decision making ability, sometimes causing irrational behavior. The peace officer may turn to their radio for security in the middle of a life or death fight or freeze behind cover, allowing the suspect to follow and assault them.

Though extremely difficult to watch, some of these instances were caught on patrol dashboard cameras. The sad and shocking murders of law enforcement personnel can help us learn how best to protect ourselves from suspects intent on taking our life.

We can begin to counteract or override poor decisions made under the stress of a deadly threat through stress inoculation and by training out of our bad habits.

Our own intuition is arguably one of the best tools with which we are equipped. If we pay more attention to the nearly imperceptible signals which cause the hair on the back our neck to rise, we may head off attacks before they occur. We need to trust our instincts and follow our training.

Research shows that between 2003 and 2012, 493 law enforcement officers were killed with a firearm. 65% of these attacks occurred with fewer than 10 feet between the officer and the suspect. This statistic tells us that maintaining distance is an advantage, a principle we heard reiterated in defensive tactics training.

If we are actively being attacked, it is important to realize the entire encounter will probably be over by the time help arrives. Spending valuable seconds on the radio calling for backup instead of focusing on the suspect is generally unwise.

We commonly see a defensive retreat in the video footage of peace officers who were killed by a violent suspect. If attacked by an individual in close proximity who is attempting to harm us, we must immediately engage and take back the offensive edge. If retreat from the suspect is a viable option, we can continue to protect ourselves as we move quickly to cover.

Some law enforcement professionals convince themselves they’ll never wind up in a life or death situation. Toward the end of our evening, a lasting comment was made to dispel that belief.

“This is a dangerous job. It can happen to you.”

We are lucky to have been selected for duty with agencies that provide such an excellent and comprehensive array of training and education. We will continue to take this training seriously and eagerly take the necessary steps to protect our own lives and those of our community members.

Hallway Drills

Thursday evening was the first physically active class in which I was unable to participate. Instead, I got to spend time with the instructors, observing my classmates going through exercises and listening when they received feedback.

The other students broke into three groups of four. One at a time, the groups would enter a large room to complete a drill. In the center of the room, movable walls had been arranged to form four hallways that met in an open center area. One student stood in the entry to each of the four hallways, facing away from one another.

Here’s a diagram of the arrangement. The reserve candidates are shown in blue and the threat role player in orange.

We worked through four different drills. In the first two, each student was told to pay attention only to whatever presented in their own hallway. If they heard noise or commotion in another hallway, they were told to ignore it.

One at a time, each student was faced with the same suspect. An angry man immediately behaved threateningly with a bat-like object in his hands, but then dropped the item on command and continued to advance on the officer with empty hands.
In the second exercise, the man initially had empty hands while yelling and threatening violence, but then pulled a large knife from his pocket.

Each of these situations required the student to either escalate or de-escalate his use of force and choice of defensive tool quickly, based on the behavior and weapons he observed.

In the second drill, for example, we might be justified in using a baton to control a large, angry man who is not armed with any weapon, but who is threatening to attack us. Once the same man pulls a knife, we may be justified in drawing our firearm, based on his proximity to us and the threatening statements he is making.

For the last two exercises, a threat would appear in one location and all four students were to respond to that hallway.

A suicidal individual appeared in the third scenario. Facing away from the students, he held a gun to his head for several seconds and eventually complied with commands to drop it. He turned and slowly began advancing toward the candidates, who quickly needed to communicate with one another and determine a plan to safely take the individual into custody for his own protection.

The final exercise involved a suspect about whom my classmates were given background information. The man had a warrant for assault in the second degree, in which a weapon was involved. The warrant yields a “shall arrest” situation.

The role player slowly moved out from a small room off one of the hallways. He held a wooden chair in front of his body and shouted things like “I’m not going back to jail” while crouching near the ground. My classmates needed to assess how to safely take this suspect into custody, while protecting themselves from the possible weapon he held.

Watching these scenes gave me some great reminders, such as to move behind cover when available, communicate frequently with my fellow officers and deputies, and not to let a potentially dangerous subject get too close.

Building Searches

An empty floor of an office building provided the perfect environment for us to practice building searches with the guidance of some members of the Washington County Tactical Negotiations Team.

A building may need to be searched for a number of reasons. A protective sweep might be appropriate if law enforcement believes there is someone armed and dangerous hiding in a home. Officers may need to search for a suspect for whom an arrest warrant has been issued if there is probable cause to believe the individual is inside a location. Or, a security alarm might sound on a home or business and, if authorized, peace officers will check the premises.
First we worked on a room clearing technique referred to as “slice the pie.” Standing outside a room, the peace officer very slowly moves in an arc around the doorway. He visually checks incremental “slices” of the room to make sure it is empty.

Oftentimes, a large portion of the room can be visually checked from the outside, but then peace officers must enter the room to declare it completely clear. There are several different safe methods for entering a room; one of them even has the charming name “button hook”!

The best way to enter a room will depend on whether it is center fed (the door is in the middle of the room) or corner fed (the door is at a corner). Once inside the room, we must be careful in deciding where to stand in order to defend ourselves from any threat and also protect against crossfire with our partner.

Officers and deputies will generally announce themselves upon entering a building and ask any occupants to identify themselves. Once the search commences, however, remaining very quiet is often an advantage. For this reason, alternate means of communication are preferred, such as gestures or a guiding hand on a shoulder.
Later, we covered how to safely contact, assess, and potentially take into custody any individuals we encounter during the search.

Our final task for the day was to learn how to search a building and clear rooms using a ballistic shield. Oftentimes, a smaller person is tasked with leading a team and carrying the heavy shield in front. I should probably use this time with an injured knee to focus on building upper body strength!


It was tough to watch my team participating in training together while I merely observed. Becoming injured and being required to sit on the sidelines has made me realize how important it has become to complete the academy and become certified as a reserve deputy. I’m thankful for my classmates and instructors, who still make me feel like part of the group and remain encouraging.

There is value in my ability to watch everyone else go through exercises. I can discern the errors I may have made, pick up good tactics my classmates employ, and listen to a variety of coaches comment on everyone’s performance.

Lastly, congratulations to a fellow Washington County reserve candidate, who was given a conditional job offer to become a regular patrol deputy. Our classmate has decided to continue on in the reserve academy with us and will start his new job in June!

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