Recruits learn to be defensive

June 16, 2002|by JULIE E. GREENE

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

As a teenager, Scott Buskirk got into some fights, but never anything life- threatening.

This past week, he practiced some defensive tactics he very well could use many times in the field once he is sworn in as a Washington County Sheriff's Department deputy.

Last week, the 17 Western Maryland Police Training Academy recruits were taught how to "escort" someone (not knowing whether that person could get confrontational), reviewed handcuffing techniques and learned how to pin someone on the ground.

"The stuff that they taught us - if people get out of it - it'd be unbelievable," said Buskirk, 29, of Warfordsburg, Pa.


The recruits took turns inside the U.S. Army Reserve Center at Willard and East Franklin streets being the good guy or the bad guy.

The experience gave Buskirk confidence in the techniques he learned because he felt the pain of his wrist being twisted and the immobilization the suspect has first-hand.

Hagerstown Police Sgt. Curt Wood repeatedly told and showed the recruits that size doesn't matter.

At 5-foot-7, 145 pounds, Wood constantly is meeting suspects bigger than him.

To demonstrate his point, he quickly pinned Oakland (Md.) Police Department recruit Shawn Durst to the mat. Durst is 5-foot-10 and weighs 230 pounds.

The old school way was to show recruits one or two defensive techniques, but Wood said he prefers to show the recruits several ways. That allows each of them to learn to be proficient with the method they feel most comfortable.

Buskirk and his younger brother, T.J., a Hancock Police Department recruit, took turns Wednesday practicing different ways to immobilize each other.

When an officer grabs a suspect's wrist, he is to pull the suspect's arm into the officer's body, toward the hip. This reduces the suspect's chances of pulling away and makes it easier to take down the suspect, if needed.

Hagerstown Police Officer Brian Hook advised Buskirk not to leave so much distance between his brother and himself.

Another technique had the suspect lying face down with the officer holding his arm from behind. If the suspect tries to resist from this position, the officer can pull on the arm and drag the suspect a few feet in an attempt to keep the suspect from pulling his other arm around to attack the officer, instructors said.

Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said it's worth dragging a suspect a couple of feet and letting him get scrapes, if the move prevents him from reaching for a weapon.

The defensive techniques taught at the academy are geared toward avoiding serious injuries for the officer and the suspect, Smith said.

Officers are told to use "strong verbal commands" to try to intimidate a suspect into obeying, Smith said Thursday. As the recruits practiced "take downs," they told their suspects not to resist or to "go down, go down."

If that doesn't work, there are defensive tactics, which include using pepper spray, Smith said.

Relative to arrests, Wood said, Hagerstown Police gets few brutality complaints.

In 2001, the department's 95 officers made more than 4,000 arrests, Smith said. That year, the department received 15 telephone complaints of excessive force, but only five of the complainants signed a statement to initiate an investigation, Smith said.

Of those five complaints, one was still under investigation, Smith said. There was not enough evidence to proceed in the other four cases, he said.

On Wednesday, instructors reminded the recruits that on the job they might not have large quarters like the armory to take down a suspect. They need to be aware of their surroundings and not take down a suspect toward a wall or into a couch or television.

They will make split-second decisions in what could be tight quarters, like a trailer or a bathroom, Wood said.

"They have to take in a lot of things at the same time," he said.

That includes whether there is a second suspect or someone else in the area. If a second suspect approaches, the officer will have to decide whether he can talk himself out of the situation or should back off until backup arrives, Wood said.

The recruits practiced for about four hours Wednesday so they wouldn't get too tired, resulting in injury.

The temperature outside the armory reached 88 degrees. The recruits worked indoors without fans or air conditioning. The bay door was open, but there were no breezes.

The physical training the recruits did leading up to this exercise got them into good shape for these more physical maneuvers, Wood said.

Wood was proud of how Buskirk had put in extra work to pass his circuit test and how he ran 1 1/2 miles in less than 12 minutes.

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