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City cops get training

January 31, 2003|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

It was a minor mistake during a police training session Thursday afternoon, but that minor mistake could have resulted in Hagerstown Police Officer Tom Langston's death had it been a real raid.

Hagerstown City Police trainers held a training session Thursday at a vacant house at 301 Ross St. near Burhans Boulevard in the hopes of preventing mistakes that could lead to fatal injuries for both officers and innocent bystanders.

Sgt. Jim Hurd, one of the trainers, told the three officers they had done a fairly good job raiding the home, but they made some mistakes.

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"You might have had every good intention in the world, but nothing goes as planned," Hurd said.

Officers who attend police academies are trained in how to conduct raids on houses. Hagerstown City Police try to put all of their officers through training as many as eight times a year, Hurd said.

Because patrol officers are usually the first to respond to emergency calls, they need to be prepared to disarm dangerous people, the training officers said. They also need to be prepared for those cases in which the calls are false alarms.

Sgt. Fred Wolford said the Ross Street home where Thursday's training exercise was conducted is owned by the Hagerstown Housing Authority and is set for demolition within the month.

Langston and fellow patrol officers Rebecca Williams and Jason Batistig showed up Thursday at about 1:30 p.m. during their regular shift.

First, the trainers showed the officers the equipment they would use: Real guns outfitted to shoot nonlethal paint bullets and masks to protect their faces and eyes from stray paint bullets. They also had the option of using a 30-pound riot shield.

Sgt. George Knight explained the scenario that the trainees and a "suspect" played by Hurd would act out: A caller heard shots fired, and the three patrol officers were the first to arrive on the scene. The Special Response Team - the Hagerstown Police Department's tactical team - was unavailable, and the officers had to find Hurd, who had hidden in the house.

When the officers went inside, Hurd was already upstairs. The officers went through the front door and inched up the stairs. Once they made sure there was no one else upstairs, they found the room where Hurd was hiding.

Hurd was standing inside a room, the door to which was cracked open. The officers, guns drawn, stood on the other side of the door.

"Who are you?" Hurd asked, only his face showing through the partially open door.

"Hagerstown City Police. Show us your hands!"

Instead of doing as he was ordered, Hurd closed the door and went into a closet by the door. The officers pleaded with him to come out peacefully, but Hurd told them to go home.

With Langston taking the lead, the officers approached the closed door. Langston kicked in the door and rushed in. Batistig, directly behind Langston, was pointing his pistol inside the room over Langston's shoulder, the proper way to provide cover.

When Langston lunged into the room, Batistig didn't have enough time to react. Instead of moving with Langston, Batistig was left with his arm outstretched and his gun pointed directly at the back of Langston's head - a definite no-no when adrenaline is pumping and jittery officers are confronting even more jittery suspects, Knight said.

"You were too aggressive," Knight told Langston after it was all over. "You just gotta slow down a bit."

Hurd said even though officers are trained to keep their fingers off the trigger unless they are ready to shoot, officers may not be thinking about that when they are in a high-intensity situation.

Batistig said he's been on patrol with the Hagerstown department for five years and there have been plenty of times where he's had to clear out a house. However, he's never been in a situation where someone was trying to shoot, he said.

Batistig said the training was useful because it gave him a more realistic idea of what a home invasion feels like.

"The adrenaline starts to flow in there - that little bit right then. So I can just imagine what it's like in a real situation," Batistig said.

The training officers said that in a real situation, any number of things could go wrong. An officer could forget to check a room, someone could get startled, and worst of all, someone could get shot unnecessarily, they said.

Through training, Sgt. Paul Kifer said, "You just try to minimize the things that could go wrong."

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