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Training gets put to use

January 27, 2003|By JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

When the intoxicated man came out of his house carrying a 3-foot-long pole in a threatening manner as a Maryland State Trooper stood nearby, Washington County Sheriff's Deputy Ricky Whittington's reaction was automatic.

Without hesitating, Whittington pulled his gun.

"At the time, the only thing I was thinking about was my safety and my fellow officer's safety," said Whittington, 28.

It was Whittington's fifth day on the job after graduating from the Western Maryland Police Training Academy on June 24. He is one of eight local recruits - now graduates - The Herald-Mail followed through the academy from January to June last year.

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Deputy 1st Class Jeff Miller, the training officer accompanying Whittington that day, said Whittington responded the way he was trained to and did a good job.

"He's a good boot. He learned quick," Miller said. "He's an outstanding deputy."

Miller, Whittington and the trooper were able to talk the intoxicated man into giving up without harming anyone, Whittington said.

"Later, I thought about what could have happened," Whittington said.

Training pays off

Whittington said the repetitive training at the academy helped in that moment. Academy instructors stressed repetitive practice of police techniques and protecting yourself and fellow officers.

That repetition also paid off for Hancock Police Officer Timothy "T.J." Buskirk.

Buskirk has had to chase a suspect by foot or in his patrol car four times. Thanks to his training, he didn't have to think about how he was going to approach the suspect or the suspect's car.

"The training is just unbelievable. It comes like second nature," said Buskirk, 24.

The six recruits who were going to work as police officers had to go through field training where, at first, they mostly observed a more experienced officer on the job. Then, the more senior officer steps back to let the new officer do most of the work but is there to provide backup and to answer questions.

Buskirk did most of his field training while he was still in the academy so he was on his own a week after graduation.

"I was nervous as nervous could be," Buskirk said.

Now, Buskirk said he is "up to his ears" in cases. To help him combat growing problems with illegal drugs, Buskirk will train with the Washington County Narcotics Task Force.

One of his most memorable moments on the job occurred before he graduated.

He was on his way home from the academy in a patrol car when he passed Sgt. Shawn Tasker. Tasker told him Hancock Police were looking for a car with two juveniles inside who might have weapons. The car was headed from Pennsylvania, probably through Hancock to West Virginia.

Tasker told Buskirk to go "sit on" U.S. 522 and watch for the car. No sooner had Buskirk gotten there then the car went by. He tailed the car for a few miles before backup arrived and they pulled the car over.

Numerous weapons were found inside, including knives and loaded firearms.

"That was pretty hairy," Buskirk said.

Tasker said Buskirk's smarts, common sense, level-headedness and familiarity with the community are helping him do a good job.

"He just picked up on stuff so well," Tasker said.

Scary at first

Whittington and fellow deputies Damian Broussard, Scott Buskirk and Jason Crawford were sent out on their own in October.

Some of the eight police recruits said being on their own without a field training officer was scary at first.

You don't have another officer in the car with you anymore as an immediate backup, Broussard said.

"You learn how to talk to people and avoid serious situations," he said.

Scott Buskirk, T.J. Buskirk's older brother, said he was a bit overwhelmed when he started patrolling on his own, but he was ready for it.

For Crawford, being on his own wasn't scary so much as a relief.

"Once you're on your own, you know you're through training," said Crawford, 25.

The new police officers said they knew they could go to another officer or supervisor with questions, and backup was available if they needed it.

Of the eight academy recruits The Herald Mail followed, Rick Matthews is the only one to resign his post. He did so in December.

Matthews, 29, hasn't given up on his dream of being a police officer.

"I really do want to be a police officer," Matthews said.

He has applied with other agencies, including the Washington County Sheriff's Department.

Matthews said being a police officer with Hagerstown City Police was overwhelming at first.

"When I came on, they were very busy," he said.

Matthews said he wasn't very happy. He said he and some co-workers agreed his more relaxed personality might serve him better with a county sheriff's department because there would be fewer inner-city problems.

Matthews said a lot of the academy training prepared him for being a police officer, but a lot of it also did not prepare him for the job.

"There's such a different atmosphere on the street than working in a controlled environment," Matthews said.

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