Lessons in use of force
When you approach a suspect vehicle, use your hand to ensure that the trunk lid is closed. Another reason to place your hand on the rear of car is to leave your fingerprints behind as evidence in case you don't survive the encounter.
If you approach a suspect vehicle at night, if you're right-handed carry your flashlight in your left hand. You may need your right hand to grab your handgun.
Situation gone bad
Two people who walked briefly in a Bedford County deputy sheriff's shoes on Thursday did not survive the traffic stop scenario. Josh Young, assistant principal at Cascade High School, and Terence Corrigan, editor of the Times-Gazette, were both shot down by a mock criminal, Detective Sgt. Scott Jones of the Bedford County Sheriff's Office. Fortunately the bullets used were non-lethal plastic rounds.
Pastor Larry Crismon handled the situation better; he was not shot, but he did face significant challenges from a pedestrian distracting him -- intent on shooting video with a cellphone -- and the two occupants of the vehicle who refused to stay put in their silver Chevy.
There is no such thing as a routine traffic stop, said Jones. When a law enforcement officer pulls over a motorist, he or she is at a disadvantage. If the person wants to hurt the officer they have the upper hand. It's much quicker to act than to react.
The traffic stop scenario was one of three designed to offer regular folks direct experience in the day-to-day life of law enforcement officers. The four-hour program last week was put on by the BCSO. The primary organizer was Chief Deputy Jason Williams.
This first session, the trial run, of the Bedford County Sheriff's Office Use of Force Academy included just five regular citizens. "Y'all are our guinea pigs," said Sheriff Austin Swing.
The guinea pigs were Larry Crismon, pastor of the Bright Temple Church of God in Christ; Jeff Rasnick, senior pastor of First Baptist Church on Depot Street; Justin Heid, director of Shelbyville Municipal Airport; Josh Young, assistant principal of Cascade High School; and Terence Corrigan, editor of the Times-Gazette.
In addition to experiencing the thought processes that go into deciding when and how to use force and how much force to employ, the program also showed the "students" the limitations of the use of videos, ones captured on police body cams and ones taken by bystanders with cell phones.
In the law enforcement community it is often called the YouTube effect. Typically all that is shown is a short segment of a much longer encounter that culminates in the use of force on a citizen. Usually not shown in these videos is what occurred leading up to a fight or use of a weapon.
"We're out there by ourselves. We want you to realize what we're up against," said Swing. When officers do resort to the use of force, Swing said, "we hope and pray we make the right decision."
In another scenario at the evening academy, the temporary deputies were tasked with arresting a recalcitrant female named "JoAnn Smith" (played convincingly with a significant helping of obnoxious) by Det. Tiffany Host. Smith's "husband" in this exercise (Det. Ramon Castillo) challenged the student deputies' patience at every step in the process. Castillo and Host play the parts so well because they've lived it, seen it played out over and over again in their real-life, day-to-day work.
Some of the student deputies had difficulty arresting "Smith" because it took hands-on restraint to corral her.
Awareness a must
The lessons were many in this evening: Situational awareness -- be aware of what's going on around you, don't get tunnel vision, stay on your toes all the time, don't get lazy, watch the hands, anybody can become a threat at any time....
The four-hour academy was held Thursday at the Bedford County EMA building. The sheriff's office plans to offer the program to the general public later this year. For more information call the Sheriff's Department at 931-684-3232.