Training: Law Enforcement Keep Up Skills

Faced with a dilemma of whether or not to pull his weapon on a disgruntled employee, Visalia officer Blake McEwen chose to try and talk the woman down. 

She pulled a pistol and fired.

He fired back, striking her in the stomach.

Luckily for McEwen, the situation was a part of a new simulator at the new College of the Sequoias police training facility in Hanford. No one was hurt.

With $500,000 worth of equipment, the three-day course helps police officers and sergeants sharpen skills and refresh basic training.

“We believe we offer a quality product at an outstanding facility,” said Brian DeCuir, director of the Tulare-Kings Police Academy. “It’s important to have a periodic refresher training. We all forget some things.”

The class emphasizes what police call perishable training skills. It’s required for all California police officers and sergeants. It is not required for those with the rank of lieutenant and above.

Departments across the Valley participate in the training. From Bakersfield to Fresno, about 30 officers each session run through the drills.

Departments find the training priceless for their officers, especially since the cost is less than $100 an officer.

“Every two years we get to work on our weaknesses and get a true learning experience,” said Tulare Sgt. Richard House, who remembers training at the older facility on Mooney Boulevard and another in Gilroy. “This facility is quite an upgrade.”

Driving time

Officers get a whole new education when it comes driver’s training. Two of the courses are dedicated to teaching officers how to handle hazardous situations and pursuits.

You’d think a car with eight wheels would get better traction on the asphalt, but this car is designed to do just the opposite.

Once in the car and moving about 30 mph, the driving instructor can control the vehicle to skid. It’s up to the officer to recover and gain control.

“Driving accidents are the biggest cop killer out there,” said Russ Skaden, a Skid Car trainer and former Visalia police officer. “There are so many things officers have to be cautious of, and knowing how to handle their vehicle is a big part of this job.”

The new Skid Car track in the back of the college Public Safety building gives officers more room to make mistakes and increase speed. Compared to the former track at the Tulare County Office of Vocational Education, the track is nearly double in size. 

For officers, the vehicle-training course, which includes a cone obstacle course, is a core part of their everyday duties.

“This course puts us in a realistic situation and may mean the difference between keeping us safe and alive and not,” Visalia Sgt. Brian Winter said.

Teaching an officer how to weave in and out of traffic is also a tool officers learn at the facility.

Behind the wheel of a training car is one thing. Being behind the wheel of a $750,000 driving simulator in hot pursuit of a suspect is another.

Four state-of-the-art machines each put officers in situations they may face when chasing a vehicle. Surrounded by five high-definition video screens and a mock Ford Crown Victoria, officers are asked to perform driving tasks from stopping at an intersection’s limit line to chasing a vehicle through busy city streets.

The motto of instructor Nick Cardaras is simple, “If you wouldn’t do it in the real world, don’t do it here.”

Course coordinator Larry McLaughlin says it’s the safest way to train.

“One training course takes the classroom outside,” McLaughlin said. “This class puts the driver right in the mix of things while not risking any lives.”

Non-lethal force

Most departments teach officers that deadly force is the last option when it’s time to take down a suspect. In the unarmed defense technique class, officers have to use their hands and feet to take down a criminal.

Officers are taught the safest and most effective ways of maintaining control of a suspect when making an arrest.

Simulations give officers a chance to practice.

“Hands on your head,” Lemoore officer Mike Kendall shouted during recent training.

The role of an uncooperative suspect was played by a fellow Lemoore officer, who resisted much like a criminal would. Kendall put him in a choke hold and forced him to the ground.

“After years of being on the streets you learn new techniques. And we are here to refresh their memory on the best way of doing things,” said Renny Collins, an instructor and Visalia officer. “Sometimes all you need is a stern voice. Other times you may need force.”

The course also reviews the best way to handcuff a suspect. Collins, like all perishable skills instructors, must participate in courses every two years to update new skills and techniques.

Officers say each portion of the course helps them do their job better. Instructors say the training shapes young officers into veteran cops.

“We are doing something important for all of law enforcement here,” McLaughlin said. “This is the training that will help get them get successfully through their career.”

Courtesy:  Visalia Times

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