Graduation comes Monday for eight recruits

June 23, 2002|by JULIE E. GREENE

Editor's note: This is the last in a series of occasional stories about eight local recruits in the Western Maryland Police Training Academy. The Herald-Mail began in February introducing readers to the recruits and the tasks they faced on the road to earning badges. The recruits will graduate Monday morning. The 10 a.m. graduation in Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater is open to the public.

Curt Wood had been on the job maybe six months when he saw another Hagerstown City Police officer had a car stopped on Burhans Boulevard and pulled up to see if he could assist.

The driver of the car took off running behind a couple of nearby buildings and Wood- off-duty at the time - gave chase.

As he came around the corner, Wood spotted the man he was chasing getting ready to hit him and instinctively executed a front snap kick into the suspect's abdomen and handcuffed him.


"I didn't even think about it," said Wood who, 15 years later is a sergeant with the Hagerstown Police Street Crimes Unit and an instructor with the Western Maryland Police Training Academy.

It's those instincts, Wood said, that he hopes the 17 recruits graduating Monday will have when they hit the street.

During the past six months, repetition has played a major role in the training of the recruits, who come from 10 law enforcement agencies.

Teaching defensive tactics to the recruits two weeks ago, Wood told them he wants their instincts, their memories from training, to kick in on the street. If they ever end up in a similar situation with a suspect, they should remember how they handled it during training, Wood said.

For Hagerstown Police recruit Rick Matthews, that training kicked in during a traffic stop simulation when the recruits and the "bad guys" were supplied with guns that shot detergent capsules.

After the recruits stopped the suspect's car, the driver took off running just before a passenger came out shooting, Matthews said.

The recruits were taught not to chase people in that situation because they never know whether there's someone else in the car with a firearm waiting for them to run by.

Matthews said it was instinct not to give chase and then to seek cover when he was fired upon.

"I told myself, 'I'm alive. I'm alive,' " said Matthews, 29, of Hagerstown.

Lesson learned

For Washington County Sheriff's Department recruit Jason Crawford, that instinctive moment came after a tough lesson during simulations.

Crawford and his partner, fellow Sheriff's Department recruit Ricky Whittington, learned when clearing a house they may not know going in how many people are inside.

This lesson came after they were told there was one bad guy and a second - "portrayed" by Deputy 1st Class Tom Routzahn - snuck up behind them.

"He taught us a lesson," said Crawford, 25, of the Clear Spring area.

Much of what instructors taught the recruits focused on keeping them alive and safe so they can go home to their families when their shifts end.

The academy started in January with a chaplain talking to recruits' family members about what "living with the badge" is like, Academy Director and Hagerstown Police Sgt. Rick Reynolds said.

Some of the eight recruits The Herald-Mail followed had at least some familiarity with police life before the academy started. Three recruits were correctional officers, at least two were paramedics, two are firefighters, one was a military police officer, another was a police dispatcher and one is the son of a retired Maryland State Police trooper.

During academy training the recruits learned to fire a gun - sometimes for the first time - at a target from 3 feet to 25 feet away.

They learned how partners work, one addressing the suspect with the other always covering his partner by keeping an eye on the suspect, his associates or his vehicle.

They learned what it feels like to be pepper sprayed and what marijuana looks and smells like to support future drug case testimony in court.

They saw dead bodies for the first time at the state medical examiner's office and learned how to safely drive fast around a corner.

They also learned how to write police reports.

"You are going to become one of the most dangerous people in the world ... a recruit with a pen," Reynolds joked in January.

Getting in shape

During the first few months, the recruits spent their early morning hours running and doing calisthenics to get in shape for later exercises and the job.

The physical rigors were more than what most of the eight recruits expected and took a toll on some of them and their companions - 17 recruits in all.

Rich Miller, 39, a recruit for the Hagerstown Fire Department's next assistant fire marshal opening, recovered from renal failure and muscle breakdown in time to pass his physical training test. The recruits must pass a circuit test of running - occasionally stopping to do calisthenics - and must run 1.5 miles in less than 12 minutes. Miller had three seconds to spare.

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