(Courage Above All)
Mechanics of arrest, restraint and control at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy
By Katy England
edge staff writer
Editor’s note: If some of this seems familiar to you, it’s probably because you follow my blog, “Maine Blues.” Up until a couple weeks ago, I was maintaining weekly entries about 19th BLETP’s MARC training.
VASSALBORO – On-the-job training is going to differ from occupation to occupation. However, when becoming a law enforcement officer, be it for municipal, county, state, Warden Service, Marine Patrol or Forest Service, the training is more intense. Don’t think so? Then consider this: All full time law enforcement officers must go to the Maine Criminal Justice Academy (MCJA) and go through the Basic Law Enforcement Training Program (BLETP) for 18 weeks (three and a half months, or 90 business days). Cadets show up on Monday at 6 a.m. and stay overnights until Friday, when they can return home for the weekends.
For those 18 weeks the cadets are learning many things, from constitutional and criminal law to emergency vehicle operation, use of force, firearms training and more. Some of it is in a classroom while other lessons come in the form of practical application, or scenario-based training.
Sgt. Scott Hamilton (he was recently promoted) invited me down to observe the Mechanics of Arrest Control and Restraint course (MARC). Hamilton, a third degree black belt in karate, has been the lead instructor in MARC at the MCJA for 10 years and has taught every BLETP class since the schools combined.
Approximately twice a week for much of the 18 week training program, I shadowed the 19th BLETP’s cadets as they learned how to effect arrests on people – some compliant, others not so much.
The first half of the MARC course took place in the classroom back on Aug. 23. The 44 cadets introduced themselves, talking about why they were interested in careers in law enforcement and how much experience (if any) in martial arts they had.
“We’re getting people from all different aspects – from prior military experience, college students and some people who have never had any of this type of training,” said Lt. Randy Gagne of the Camden Police Department, who will be taking over as chief of police as of Jan. 1, 2011 – he is also co-lead instructor of the MARC course with Sgt. Hamilton. “The training part is to teach [MARC] at a basic level, but give everyone a chance to learn new skills that they can use in the field.”
Hamilton explained that the cadets would be learning the basics of defensive tactics.
“You’re going to get 18 weeks of the basics and then you have to keep learning,” he said. “At the end of the 18 weeks, you’ll know what you can do.”
He reviewed the different levels of force, beginning with officer presence (the very presence of a uniformed officer is a level of force) and moving on to verbal commands, hands on, less than lethal tools, all the way up to deadly force. The instructors also addressed how to assess and recognize a threat level, establishing a command presence and more.
But as with any tool, there is a chance that they will not work properly and Hamilton said that when that happens it shouldn’t come as a surprise to the officer.
“Be surprised when your tools work, not when they don’t work,” he said. “When I Tase [a subject] and it doesn’t work it shouldn’t be a shock.”
Once in the Tactical Center (basically a large gym – but it can be used for multiple training purposes), cadets started on the basics of how to deal with a non-compliant subject.
Throughout the many weeks that followed, different instructors from various agencies across the state came to the MARC course to assist in instruction. Dep. Arthur Smith was on hand for most weeks, assisting Sgt. Hamilton or leading the class when Hamilton was away.
Most of us have routines in our lives – get up, get dressed, get going. Once you’re at work there are more routines. In police work, that often involves handcuffing. The instructors went over how to hold the handcuffs, how to carry them, and how to ensure that they go on as quickly and easily as possible.
Differences come into play when handcuffing a subject and will vary depending on whether or not that person is being compliant. The goal of handcuffing someone is the same whether they are being compliant or not – it’s gaining control as quickly and safely as possible.
He explained that not all the tools they use to gain compliance are physical.
“Verbal is our main tool,” Hamilton said. “We would rather talk to somebody to gain compliance than escalate the situation and go hands-on. The goal is control.”
He pointed out that during most arrests, the subject is cooperative and the officers don’t need to use some of the skills. But it’s those times when the skills are called upon that the officers need to act quickly and efficiently to control the person so as little harm as possible comes to both the subject and the officer.
Handcuffing is all well and good when the cadets are working with someone who is compliant, but it’s just as important (if not more so) that they know how to handle someone who isn’t interested in helping the process along.
The instructors began to give demonstrations of how to escort a resistive subject to the ground. This applied mostly to someone approaching the officers in an aggressive manner. The cadets would then use arm bars or a rear take-down (grabbing them by the shoulders) maneuver to land the subject on the ground.
Throughout the demonstration, cadets are reminded to continue to use their voice commands to ensure that the suspect knows what it is that the cadet is expecting; this has the dual effect of letting anyone else in the area hear what is going on.
Having a gun pointed at you is probably one of the most disconcerting things that could happen, but the cadets needed to learn how to disarm an armed opponent quickly and effectively.
One of the most memorable days was when the cadets were exposed to OC (Oleoresin Capsicum) spray, more commonly known as pepper spray.
The cadets were paired off, one spraying his partner. The one who was sprayed had to fight, handcuff a subject and then radio for help and tell the dispatcher his name, location and what had happened.
“It helps assist them in deciding what use of force to use against a person,” said Hamilton. “By feeling the effects, cadets know they can fight through the pain and achieve their goal and stay safe. It’s possible to be exposed [to OC spray] by other officers using it against a suspect. They can get through the effects by maintaining a proper mindset.”
The cadets didn’t enjoy the experience but noted that there was definite value in getting sprayed.
“It was the worst,” noted Nicholas Gulliver, a patrol officer from Jay Police Department. “I think it’s a good thing to know the effects of it [the OC spray] here. I got a little panicky … It’s good that it was a controlled environment.”
Many people flinch away from getting hit. If someone becomes violent, it’s human nature to distance oneself from that person. In order to reduce the flinch factor, instructors had the cadets square off with each other with gloves and helmets and, well, fight. This allowed them to see that they could continue to fight after taking a hit, and taught them to move forward and not back.
Detective Paul Fenton of the Cape Elizabeth Police Department, along with Cpl. Dan Beaulieu of the Saco Police Department, demonstrated different ways to fight off an aggressive subject from the ground.
Tips included how to get up from the ground to avoid being pushed back down by an aggressor, ways to kick at an attacker from the ground and various escapes from grapples and mounts – as well as ways to subdue an opponent.
Fenton stressed that fighting in police work is drastically different from televised fighting such as Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) or boxing – simply because there are no rules for the aggressor and there are lots of rules for the officer.
“One of the more important aspects is that most any physical struggle ends up on the ground,” said Fenton. “If you end up in the wrong position on the ground, that could be a bad position.”
Beaulieu thinks the importance of being proficient in defensive tactics can’t be understated.
“Most [officers] will never fire their weapon. Every one of them will be involved in a physical confrontation,” he said. “It’s something everyone will use. If you’re not good at it or don’t refine it you could be in trouble. [Defensive tactics] could ultimately save your life.”
The cadets faced off against different instructors and had to take them into custody. The instructors offered various levels of resistance, from compliance and non-violent non-compliance to full-blown physical resistance and fighting.
After each scenario, the class deconstructed what happened. Instructors and cadets offered tips and advice on how the cadet could have done better and praise for techniques that worked well.
As the BLETP wound down to the last couple weeks, the cadets were tested on their techniques. This was followed by a practical scenario-based test where the cadets had to utilize their skills against instructors and take them into custody – easier said than done.
The transformation of the cadets between day one to graduation was nothing short of amazing.
“The public should feel safe that their law enforcement is well-trained and willing to defend the public should there be a need,” said Hamilton. “[The 19th BLETP cadets/officers] are the future of their departments. And from the training they’ve received in defensive tactics, along with all the important classes they’re required to take at the academy, they will become the responsible officers of the future.”
On Dec. 17, the 19th BLETP cadets graduated and received their badges. Congratulations to all of you. Stay safe!
Derek Abbott, Portland Police Department;
Kimberly Bates, Farmington Police Department;
Aaron Beck, Damariscotta Police Department;
James Bradbury, Buxton Police Department;
Ethan Buuck, Maine Warden Service;
Cole Chandler, Presque Isle Police Department;
Dale Clark, Milo Police Department;
Chad Cochran; Caribou Police Department;
Matthew Cook, Belfast Police Department;
Timothy Coombs, Wilton Police Department;
Andy Crook, Rockland Police Department;
Thomas Cummings, Carrabassett Valley Police Department;
Matthew Derosier, Madawaska Police Department;
Michael Donahe, Pleasant Point Police Department;
Paul Dubay, Gorham Police Department;
Deanna Fernandez, Portland Police Department;
Brad Gallant, Rumford Police Department;
Roy Guidry Jr., Washburn Police Department;
Nicholas Gulliver, Jay Police Department;
Lucas Hallett, Falmouth Police Department;
Nathaniel K. Jack; Knox County Sheriff’s Office;
Jason Leadbetter, Portland Police Department;
Derek A. Levasseur, Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office;
Danielle Levesque, Presque Isle Police Department;
Kevin Marrie, York Police Department;
Darrin Moody, Waldo County Sheriff’s Office;
Nathaniel Munzing, Biddeford Police Department;
Eduardo Oliveira, Brewer Police Department;
Jeffrey Pardue, Falmouth Police Department;
Jonathan Reeder, Portland Police Department;
Jeffrey Rice, Lincoln Police Department;
Joshua Robbins, Old Orchard Beach Police Department;
William A. Russell Jr., Berwick Police Department;
Ryan Sanford, Elliot Police Department;
Andrew Seavey, Baileyville Police Department;
David Silk, Orono Police Department;
Matthew Sinclair, Maine Marine Patrol;
Todd Smolinsky, Bridgeton Police Department;
Janet M. Theriault, Millinocket Police Department;
Jay Trainer, Caribou Police Department;
Sam Turner, Portland Police Department;
Carl Vickerson, Maine Marine Patrol;
Ron Wood, Rangeley Police Department;
Keith York, Washington County Sheriff’s Office.
Home on the range
When October rolled around, the cadets received a break from the regular routine to participate in what was referred to as “range weeks.” During these weeks, the 44 cadets were split into three groups. Each week they went to a different range to learn how to properly fire their weapons, drive their cruisers, and process a person who was suspected of operating under the influence. I was permitted to observe (and in some cases, participate) in these lessons.
Happiness is a warm gun
The first thing that pops up in your mind when you hear the word “range” is “firing,” so it seemed appropriate that the first range I visited was the firearms range.
Before going, the cadets had to swap out their red plastic guns for real guns in the armory. Sgt. Joe Poirier distributed them, taking care to ensure the guns were not loaded. Even with these safeguards in place, the cadets treat every gun as though it was loaded at all time, which means never pointing it towards others or oneself. Ever.
The cadets were briefed by the instructors about what to expect for that day. They discussed the difference between cover and concealment (the former will protect one from bullets, while the latter obscures one from view).
On the range, the cadets loaded a pre-determined number of bullets and went through different drills. Instructors had labeled different targets by numbers and letters (e.g. 1, 2, 3 and A, B, C) and would call them out in various orders that the cadets would have to shoot (3, 1, 2, etc.).
Throughout the week, the cadets would fire at different distances (three, five, seven, 10, 15 25 yards). The cadets also had to contend with dummy rounds. These load into the gun like regular bullets, but when you go to fire them, nothing happens. No bang, no gunpowder, no recoil – nada. It’s a two-part learning tool. One, it simulates what would happen if a bullet misfires – the cadets have to “tap and rack,” meaning they tap the firearm’s magazine to ensure it’s loaded properly, then pull back on the rack to expel the dummy round. Two, it allows the cadet and the instructor to see if there is an anticipatory dip in the barrel of the gun.
The cadets learned how to shoot by utilizing their cover while standing, kneeling and lying prone. They then walked through qualifying drills, shooting center mass then the head. They also had to learn to shoot while walking forward and backward.
“Officers are tasked with protecting the public and that sometimes entails using deadly force,” said Sgt. William Keith of the Maine State Police, primary firearms instructor for department training at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy. “If they don’t have these skills there’s a chance they’ll get hurt, and that’s unacceptable.
“Law enforcement careers are running 25 to 30 years and they have a sidearm on for every shift,” he continued. “When it comes time they have to use it, these skills they learn this week and with the department will help get them through and help the public we serve.”
Shot in the dark
(Photo by Tpr. Jon Leach)
Sgt. Joe Poirier explained that despite the darkness, the cadets tend to shoot better in low-light conditions. They learned how to hold a flashlight and shoot, as well as how to best utilize their night vision (biological night vision, no fancy headgear).
I was only able to spend one day and evening with the cadets during this range week. During my time there, Sgt. Poirier took the time to show me how to shoot with a 9 millimeter lent to me by Sgt. Keith and his own Glock .45. Saying it was awesome is a gross understatement. I sincerely appreciate the time they took to ensure I had a better understanding of what goes into learning how to properly handle and fire a gun.
(Photo by Tpr. Jon Leach)
Emergency Vehicle Operation and Control (EVOC) is just what it sounds like: being able to control your vehicle. The idea wasn’t so much to learn how to drive at high rates of speed, but to be able to control the vehicle as efficiently as possible.
The EVOC instructors for the week I was there included Lead Instructor Trooper Jack Dow of the Maine State Police Troop K, Sgt. John O’Malley of the Scarborough Police Department, Trooper Adam McNaughton of the Maine State Police Troop D, Trooper Marc Poulin of the Maine State Police Troop D, Sgt. Jason Nein of the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, and Trooper Bernard Branette of the Maine State Police Troop K.
Throughout the week the cadets have to be able to put a cruiser through various different
maneuvers at low, medium or high speeds. On Oct. 14, they were working on braking turns, where they come into a turn going around 50 miles per hour. Other maneuvers include a serpentine, where cones are set up in something of a slalom formation 100 feet apart and the cadets have to maneuver between them at 40 mph without touching a cone. The evasive maneuver is when the cadet is driving with an instructor and they come to a point in the course where they have to turn left or right. About 20 feet before the cones obstructing the path, the instructor calls out “left” or “right” and they have to turn the proper direction. Occasionally, the instructors won’t call out and it’s up to the cadet to still avoid the obstacles. There is also a low-speed precision obstacle course where they have to move the cruisers through a tight network of cones.
When the cadets are tested, it’s based on how quickly they made it through and how many cones they hit. This simulates the stress the cadets will face out on the road.
There’s also the reverse serpentine, where they do the same as the serpentine, except slower and backwards. The same is true for the reverse obstacle course.
The instructors explained that the courses are designed to simulate actual driving experiences. The evasive maneuver is to simulate an animal or person running out into the roadway.
“These are diminishing skills,” said Sgt. O’Malley. “If you don’t use them every day they go away.”
He noted that inclement weather doesn’t change how you have to handle the cruiser, but at what speeds things can go out of control.
“Everything is the same, but you just start to slide at a low speed in rain and snowy conditions,” he said.
They have to do all of these maneuvers during the day and at night.
The night I was there the cadets also had to attempt a pursuit during the day and at night. This involved some of the instructors driving past the cadets and doing something that would be a moving violation (donuts in the road, swerving off pavement) and then have the cadets pursue them. The cadets are trained to use the cruiser correctly, meaning calling in on their radios, activating their blue lights, staying on the legal side of the road and slowing down for stop signs and yield signs (Sgt. O’Malley explained that if using the lights and siren, police don’t have to come to a complete stop, but they have to be able to in the case of oncoming traffic or other obstacles in the road).
How much have you had to drink tonight?
Police deal with many drunk drivers each year. It’s not only one of the most frequent calls they respond to, it’s also something often contested in court. This makes it imperative that the officers not only know what to look for when on an OUI stop, but also know how to properly articulate it in their reports.
Everything from how they instruct the person during field sobriety tests, to how well the cadets themselves can perform on the tests when giving instructions can come into play in a court case.
The reason field sobriety tests became standardized is because prior to that, different officers had different methods for determining if someone was sober. Now, all law enforcement officers are administering the same tests.
“It makes it easier for the prosecution of cases,” explained Officer Robert Libby of the South Portland Police Department and lead instructor for the OUI SFSTs portion the range weeks. “Prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys – they all know what it [SFSTs] is and if it’s done properly.”
On the day I was there, the cadets were reviewing videos of impaired people and watching for clues of impairment on various field sobriety tests.
The tests are:
Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN): where the officer uses a visual stimulus (a pen or similar object) that the subject tracks with their eyes. Nystagmus is an involuntary, and slightly creepy, twitching of the eyeball which becomes pronounced when someone is intoxicated.
The walk and turn test: The cadet places the subject in the instruction position (one foot in front of the other, hands at sides) and they have to take nine steps, turn and take nine more in a straight line, heel-to-toe and counting out loud.
The one-leg-stand: The cadet instructs the student to lift one leg (whichever the subject is comfortable with) six inches off the ground and count by thousands (one thousand one, one thousand two, etc.) until instructed to stop.
The tests, with the exception of HGN, are designed to divide the subject’s attention. This is done because driving is a skill that depends on people being able to operate a large piece of deadly machinery using divided attention (gauging one’s speed, braking, watching for obstacles, etc.).
And it isn’t just the tests that the officers are concerned about, it’s the totality of the circumstances – how was the vehicle being operated (swerving, wide turns, rolled stops, etc.), was there a smell of alcohol (or intoxicating beverages, rather); was the subject’s speech slurred; could he answer questions and retrieve his license; and so on.
In order to help the cadets become comfortable not only with administering the tests but being able to experience what it’s like to deal with an impaired person, The Maine Criminal Justice Academy employs the National Highway Safety Administration’s nationally-certified training, which includes having the cadets evaluate volunteers who have been carefully monitored and dosed with alcohol.
“[For some cadets] this is they only opportunity they will have to correctly evaluate an impaired person,” said James Lyman, the training coordinator for MCJA. “It’s a valuable tool for them.”
Lyman said that the cadets can watch videos of HGN, and practice administering field sobriety tests on sober subjects, but nothing beats working with a real subject who is impaired. They can see HGN in a real person, observe cues during tests, and see how it stacks up with the subject’s actual level of impairment.
The entire process is overseen by several law enforcement officers. There is a registered nurse on hand who takes the blood pressure and evaluates each of the volunteers before any alcohol is administered. The subjects are all given an Intoxilyzer beforehand to ensure they had no alcohol in their system.
The goal is to get the volunteers between 0.08 to 0.12 percent, though in this case no one was above a 0.09 percent at any time. Throughout the evening, the volunteers were given additional breathalyzer tests to track their level of intoxication.
“It’s pretty controlled and we take it very seriously,” said Lyman.
The volunteers have to have arrangements for travel (i.e. have a designated driver), and are not allowed to leave the premises until their blood alcohol level is .04 percent. And they also have to agree to stay home and not consume any more alcohol for the rest of the evening. If any of the volunteers decide they aren’t comfortable or don’t feel well, they can stop at any time (though this didn’t come up).
After this course, the cadets have to evaluate 10 intoxicated individuals with 80 percent accuracy via chemical confirmation (i.e. an Intoxilyzer test) to be considered qualified.