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Police academy recruits learn lessons

April 01, 2002|BY JULIE E. GREENE

Editor's Note: This is the fourth in a series of occasional Sunday stories about eight local recruits in the Western Maryland Police Training Academy. Leading up to graduation in June, The Herald-Mail will introduce readers to the recruits and the tasks they face on the road to earning badges.

julieg@herald-mail.com

Doug DeHaven was asking the victim his name and address when the man started getting contentious and became irate that DeHaven wasn't doing more about the possibility of a burglar in his home.

The "home" was the lounge at the Police Athletic League building on the Hagerstown Fairgrounds and the "victim" was DeHaven's Western Maryland Police Training Academy instructor for that day's lesson in crime scene investigation.

"Don't you have a gun? Aren't you going to go in there?" Hagerstown Police Officer Doug Garner yelled at DeHaven, an assistant fire marshal with the Hagerstown Fire Department.

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"I'm a taxpayer," Garner yelled. "I want some action now!"

For Garner, a 22-year firefighting veteran and assistant chief of the Halfway fire department, the frustration and anger DeHaven was facing were familiar.

He asked Garner to relax and stay back while DeHaven slowly entered the home with his hand on his gun - in this case a rubber substitute the 17 recruits carry to get used to working with a police utility belt.

After taking a statement from the victim and searching the crime scene, DeHaven and the other recruits took turns collecting evidence and dusting for fingerprints, often ending up with powder on themselves as well as the furniture.

DeHaven and Rich Miller, both 38, are in the police academy training to be Hagerstown fire marshals. Most of the recruits are training to be police officers. A few will be state fire marshals.

"They're learning things right now that they're going to apply every day in the field," Hagerstown Fire Marshal Tom Brown said. "In addition to specialized training, they need to know proper police procedures to do their job."

As fire marshals, DeHaven and Miller will have the power to arrest suspects, Brown said.

They already have received specialized fire investigative training through the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Md., and the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute in College Park, Md., and some private programs provided by companies, Brown said.

Those lessons included learning how to cut a sample of burned wood out to be tested for flammable liquids, said DeHaven, who became an assistant fire marshal last October.

Unlike his counterparts in rural settings who might not have police backup right away, DeHaven doesn't expect to use his gun as a fire marshal.

But he and fire marshal recruit Miller have found several lessons helpful, including how to interview juveniles and how to recognize signs that a child has been abused.

In many cases where juveniles start fires, it's because the youth has been abused or has trouble at home and is seeking attention, DeHaven said.

For Miller, March 20's crime scene class provided a valuable lesson.

Miller didn't want to admit his doubts when Garner asked if Miller was sure he searched the scene of an armed robbery thoroughly.

After repeated prodding and hints, Miller found the stolen wallet that was tossed behind a trash can.

"You just don't take anything for granted," said Miller, who is being trained to fill the next fire marshal vacancy. "Even the small, minute type things are things that could make or break the case."

The challenge Miller faces now is getting back into physical shape so he can pass the fitness tests in time for graduation on June 24.

Miller stopped participating in morning physical training exercises after two weeks when his muscles broke down and he went into renal failure.

With only a month's notice that he would attend the academy, Miller wasn't as physically prepared as he wanted to be. Now he's working at the Hagerstown Community Center's Wellness Center. He hopes to return to the regular recruit workouts by April 15.

Miller said he misses the bonding and team aspect of physical training during which the recruits run, do various calisthenics and get a taste of defensive tactics.

"I'm looking forward to the challenge," Miller said.

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