Thursday, March 27, 2008

Back in the Classroom … Traffic Law

Much of a police officer’s time is spent patrolling … in a car … on the street or highway. Chances are they are going to come across other vehicles and need to know the laws that govern traffic and motorists. That’s where the Texas Transportation Code comes in.

And that’s exactly what the cadets learned this week from Senior Trooper Eddie Carmon from the Texas Department of Public Safety.

“It’s impossible to cover all of traffic law in one week, so we hit the areas that they probably encounter in their day-to-day activities as officers,” Carmon said. “You can spend six weeks trying to cover traffic law and not get it all in. I’ve tried to – with the experience I have with the highway patrol – give them the info they’ll need when they get to their assigned station or agency.”

“No one wants to be stopped and be given a ticket for a violation they didn’t commit,” Carmon added. “With this class, I want the officers to make sure that any time they stop someone, they make sure they know that the person has violated a law and charge them with the proper violation.”

I know what you’re thinking … if Trooper Carmon can’t teach the class all the traffic law in one week, how should an officer expect the general public to know all the traffic laws? You need to remember the Texas Transportation Code covers a wide variety of topics. Look at it! There’s a link in the first paragraph in case you missed it.

“If you are in the motoring public, take it upon yourself to learn the traffic laws that apply to you and where you are driving your vehicle,” Carmon emphatically said. “Just because you don’t know the law, if you have committed an offense, you are accountable for it. When you sign the dotted line to get your driver’s license, you imply that you know the traffic laws and you’re held accountable for that. It wouldn’t hurt a person to every now and then pick up a driver’s handbook and refresh themselves.”

What is the most common violation an officer encounters that deals with the traffic laws?

“The speed limit,” Carmon said quickly and matter-of-factly. “The speed limit totally depends on what road you’re on: city street, farm-to-market road, state highway, interstate highway. People are surprised to know that you can drive 80 mph in some locations of Texas. Learn the speed limits of the areas you drive most often and pay attention to the posted signs. More people were stopped for speeding violations than any other violations.”

Friday, March 21, 2008

Finally out of the classroom … defensive tactics

The above video makes you think twice about not obeying a police officer, huh?

Unfortunately, police officers often find themselves in a situation where talking and reasoning will not resolve a problem. And sometimes it gets physical.

The sixth week of the Central Texas Police Academy helps the cadets deal with these situations by teaching them defensive tactics.

“It’s awesome to be out of the classroom and not sit for eight hours straight,” said recruit Danny Ohana with the
Texas A&M Police Department.

After five weeks of continuous and mind-numbing class work (see previous blog posts), the students finally get to relieve some of their pent-up energy.

“The first day of defensive tactics is really all about mindset,” instructor Larry Frye said. “They have to understand that they’re going to get into fights in law enforcement. They’re going to face resistance and they’re going to have to come out on top. My responsibility is to make sure these people all get home at the end of their shift.”

Throughout the week the cadets continuously built upon their defensive tactics repertoire. The training was based off of Pressure Point Control Tactics, or PPCT. PPCT started out as only pressure point tactics, but evolved into a whole range of defensive tactics to include:

- handcuffing
- basic movements
- defensive counterstrikes
- pressure point control
- joint locks and take downs
- baton applications
- shoulder pin - a type of vascular restraint
- weapons retention and disarmament

After they learn the maneuvers, the cadets get a chance to face real-life situations against seasoned police officers who posed as the bad guys. All were wearing protective gear, but more than one bloody nose surfaced from the action.

“It’s very good for a cadet officer to get hit so when they get out on the street they don’t freeze up or it’s not a surprise,” said officer Paul Brown of the
College Station Police Department.

Each encounter is constantly monitored and after each one, the instructors review the scenario with the cadets, discussing what went right and what went wrong with each scenario.

“We would rather the students make their mistakes here than when they get out into the real world,” said Mr. Santo.

Many times, emotion controlled the cadets’ actions. The drills are designed to help them get a feel of how their body and mind will respond to the situation.

“They have to learn to control their anger because they are accountable for everything they do, especially in this day and age where everyone has a camera and video capabilities on their cell phone,” Brown said. “You have to be conscious of what you are doing and how you are doing it. It doesn’t mean somebody is not going to get hurt, but your goal is to get them under arrest without causing injury.”

“Police officers are responsible for everything they do,” Brown quickly added. “If you go to kick someone to take them down and you miss and hit someone in the crowd, you are responsible for that. There is a very high level of accountability on the police officer’s part - way more accountability than a regular citizen.”

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

WEEK 5: A short but important week … getting stronger in more ways than one

Cody Chandler, a self-funded academy member who drives from Huntsville every day, says he can feel – and see – the effects of the physical training the cadets are enduring at the end of just about every day.

He has taken a whopping five minutes off his 1.5 mile run time and added 17 push-up repetitions in the allotted one minute in just four weeks.

“I’m not as fat,” he joked. “But seriously, I feel a lot better physically. I was just showing off to my wife on the webcam the other day.”


“My wife’s been in
Iraq for almost a year,” he said.

Chandler and his wife, who he met when both were in the Army and stationed in Georgia, were married three years ago and now have a 15-month-old son. He last saw his wife for a week in September. Chandler himself spent time in Iraq and was part of the invasion of Baghdad.

“It’s been difficult,” Chandler solemnly said. “I’m not good with this emotional stuff, but I’m thankful my family has been there to help me. The police academy has been something to keep me busy.”

And the recruit class has been busy. In a week shortened to three days by Spring Break, Dr. Anne Satterfield has been teaching the cadets the basics of mental health issues and how to identify these issues.

They can range from temporary impairment due to drugs and alcohol to long-term mental health issues.

“Officers wear a lot of hats,” said Satterfield, the Director of Employee Assistance Program at Texas A&M and practicing psychologist. “Sometimes they wear the hat of a social worker and care for people with mental issues.”

Satterfield claims that at any given time, 25% of the population has some sort of mental health issue and needs help. She adds that not all are able to get help, especially since the amount of help available is diminishing.

“There’s increased scrutiny on law enforcement officers,” Satterfield added. “They must be able to identify mental health issues and find the place for the person to get assistance. It may not always be jail.”

Interesting tidbits:

The cadets will not have class Thursday and Friday as the entire Texas A&M System is off for Spring Break … Next week, the cadets will begin hands-on training, beginning with a week of learning defensive tactics.

The cadets received their PT t-shirts this morning. The design was done by the students and they will wear the shirts everyday for physical training. The shirt slogan reads, “non nobis, sed aliis,” which means, “not for ourselves, but for others.”

Friday, March 7, 2008

WEEK 4: The first test … getting more interesting

“It wasn’t that bad at all,” Chris Sullivan with the Hearne Police Department said when asked about the first test.

Donny Ohana, a recruit with the Texas A&M Police Department added “It seemed easy when you first looked at the questions. But when we got the results, we missed more than we thought we would. For the most part, it wasn’t too bad.”

Sullivan and Ohana pretty much echoed the sentiments of the majority of the class.

The test is taken online on a system developed by TEEX’s Technology and Economic Development Division. It consisted of 100 multiple-choice questions and the students had 90 minutes to complete it. All the students get the same questions, but they are in random order as generated by the testing system.

“There’s usually quite a bit of nervousness going into the first exam,” Mr. Santo said. “The students don’t know how the questions are going to be and don’t know the test format. The results usually improve on the rest of the exams because they know how to prepare.”

There’s no rest for the weary in the Central Texas Police Academy. The cadets took the exams Wednesday afternoon, but they also covered some very important topics the remainder of the week.

“The info is non-stop and comes at them pretty fast,” Mr. Santo said.

But according to the recruits, the material is getting more interesting.

“All the stuff we learned in the first three weeks we’re beginning to apply,” Ohana said.

Early in the week, the students learned about force options. In a nutshell, when should an officer use force and what type of force is appropriate.

Force options range from the officer simply being present to the last option, deadly force.

The use of deadly force is a topic that usually hits the cadets with a load of realism.

“Some of the videos we saw were hard to watch,” Ohana said as his mood quickly turned serious. “It showed us that everything is serious out there. You can have 15 good years on the force and one day it could all end.”

“We show the cadets videos of scenarios of when and when not to use deadly force,” Mr. Santo said. “Officers get killed in some of them. They’re not pleasant to watch, but they’re important to see. We don’t want our students to make the same mistakes others have made. When they get out of here and start working, we want them to finish their shift and go home safely each night.”

Interesting tidbits:

More on testing … The number of questions on the exams correlate to the number of hours spent on each subject. If the class spends 40 hours on one subject and 20 hours on another, there will twice as many questions about the first subject … The software used to administer the exams also provides statistics about the exam, allowing for a meaningful and comprehensive review of trouble areas within the class … The tests are designed to mimic the state exam and in the last two years, 99% of Central Texas Police Academy graduates passed the state exam.

Thursday and Friday the cadets learned the ins-and-outs of family violence from Bryan Police Officer Cary Beason.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

WEEK 3: Arrest, search and seizure; the code of criminal procedure … and a newly found life

Just over a year and a half ago, 37-year-old Georgia Maher was living in Dallas screening checked baggage for explosives at the D/FW airport.

It was at this time that Maher’s life changed. With the aid of
gastric-bypass surgery she lost an incredible 120 pounds and more than the literal weight was lifted off her shoulders.

“I felt like because my life-changing experience, my first life was over,” Maher, a
Bryan Police Department sponsored recruit said with a huge smile on her face. “In life number two, I want to be a police officer.”

She is three weeks into taking the first step to living her dream.

“This is all I have ever wanted to do,” Maher continued as her smile grew even bigger. “I have never been physically able to do it until now. As much as it hurts when Mr. Santo is putting us through PT, I love every bit of it. For me it is like a new-found freedom.”

This week, Maher and her classmates studied arrest, search and seizure as well as the Code of Criminal Procedure.

Arrest, search and seizure covers topics like: when you can and can’t arrest someone, probable cause, how long you can hold someone once they are arrested and what is needed to get a search warrant, to name just a few.

Brazos County District Attorney Brian Baker spent time with the class, explaining the importance of a police officer’s activities.

“He says it is all about report writing and he emphasized that a seemingly insignificant detail can make or break a criminal case,” Maher explained. “He is the one that has to follow up and try to prosecute the cases we bring to him, so he should know.”

“Everything a police officer does is recorded - one way or another,” Mr. Santo said. “Whether it is their daily log or if they make an arrest, every detail is recorded.”

Thursday and Friday, Ed Costello of the
Texas A&M University Police Department taught the class the Code of Criminal Procedure.

Maher, along with the rest of the 142nd Central Texas Police Academy have endured three weeks of classroom activity in preparation for their first test, which will be held next Wednesday.

“The test will cover over 100 hours of class instruction,” said Chris Sullivan, a recruit with the
Hearne Police Department. “As long as you read every question carefully, I don’t think it will be too hard.”

We’ll be sure to ask him how hard he thought it was next week …

Interesting tidbits:

After the classroom test next Wednesday, the students will retest on all of the physical assessments they performed the first day of class.

“We should see some improvement,” Mr. Santo said. “Especially, we should see some improvement in upper body strength. They are finally getting used to the idea they have to get out and move, be active and put a little effort in it.”