Citizen Law Enforcement Academy: Week 5

Last week’s class was held at the Law Enforcement Education Center on the campus of Hennepin Technical College in Brooklyn Park.  We’re in for another jam-packed evening, meeting with members of the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office Community Engagement Team (CET) and representatives of the Professional Standards Division which includes Personnel and Range Instructors.

Law Enforcement & Criminal Justice Education Center source: www.jessicaellislaine.com
Law Enforcement & Criminal Justice Education Center source: jessicaellislaine.com

The highlight of the evening is the time we spend with the HCSO’s Range Instructors.  At the firing range, we’re given shooting vests, ear muffs, and protective eyewear.  I fuss over the eyewear because my fading eyesight is a product of old age: I’m farsighted but can’t see anything up close.  To wear glasses or not to wear glasses, that is the question.

Police Firing Range
Police Firing Range source: http://www.sodahead.com

I decide not to wear glasses.  When it’s my turn to shoot the handgun, a standard-issue Smith & Wesson M&P.40, the hunky instructor tells me to aim for the grey rectangle in the center of the person-shaped target.  Holding the gun (which is surprisingly heavy), my hands shake like FBI agent Clarice Starling’s as she follows serial killer, Jame Gumb, into that basement of horrors in The Silence of the Lambs. 

Silence of the Lambs Source: Orion Pictures
The Silence of the Lambs Source: Orion Pictures

Between my carpal tunnel, not lining up the target with the handgun sight properly, and frankly just not knowing what the $&@! I’m doing, I land one shot out of five in the grey rectangle.  One bullet hits the target’s head, another hits the cardboard outside the target’s body, and a third bullet hits the target’s groin area.  Ouch.

While my dreams of being drafted as an elite sniper are dashed, it turns out fellow Twin Cities’ Sister in Crime member, Theresa Weir is something of a natural: all five of her shots hit within the grey rectangle.  Her sharp shooting skills lead to some friendly teasing on Facebook.  “I’ll remember not to piss you off,” one person jokes.

My aim is a little better with the rifle because it has a scope.  All of my shots hit the target’s stomach. “You all hit there,” the instructor says, taking the wind out of my sails.

Interesting fact #1: While the military tests first-to-market guns and rifles, the HCSO tests first-to-market bullets from Alliant Techsystems in Anoka.

After the firing range, we head over to a video simulation lab.  These video simulations are used to train new recruits and offer a variety of potentially lethal scenarios: a domestic violence call, an unusual traffic stop, and a hold up-in-progress at a convenience store.

Video simulation Source: Jim Wilson, New York Times
Video simulation Source: Jim Wilson, New York Times

My scenario involves the convenience store, where my partner and I point our simulation guns at the robber who faces the cash register.  We shout things at him like, “Sir, move now!  Move now!  Put your hands up!  Hands up!  Look at me! Look at me!  Look at me!  Why won’t you look at me?”  Before we can yell out anything else, the robber turns around and shoots us both dead.  Cagney and Lacey, we are not.

Cagney and Lacey Source: Rex
Cagney and Lacey Source: Rex

It’s a scary predicament, being a cop in a potentially life-threatening situation.  Some experts believe more training, especially in tactics to defuse high-stress situations, could help both officers and suspects.  A recent study conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum concluded that the majority of training hours were spent on firearms and defensive tactics rather than on de-escalation and crisis intervention.

We’ve heard several people say, “You don’t read about HCSO officers in the papers,” and it’s true, you don’t.  On average, HCSO employees receive twice as many training hours as other police departments.  Does the additional training make a difference?  It certainly can’t hurt.

The training instructors also teach the new recruits how to read the Cooper color code of the tactical (or combat) mindset.  As one instructor explains, understanding your mindset during a tactical situation can be more important than your firearm or Taser skills.  Your mindset can literally make the difference between life and death.

Cooper Color Codes of Awareness Source: wayofthespiritualwarrior.co.uk
Cooper Color Codes of Awareness Source: wayofthespiritualwarrior.co.uk

There are five colors in the color code:

  1. White: Living in oblivion. Not a good place to be if something’s going down.
  2. Yellow: Slightly observant. Okay, but not ideal.
  3. Orange: Heightened awareness. The “sweet spot” on the color code.
  4. Red: High alert. An imminent threat has been identified.
  5. Black: Combat debrief. Your mindset after something goes down, processing what just happened. It should not be your mindset before something goes down or while something’s going down.

After the video simulation, we watch a Taser demonstration. The instructors assure us that it’s very uncommon for someone to die after being Tased.    Interesting fact #2: Even people with pacemakers can be safely Tased, so grandpas beware.

I could write a boring paragraph about how a Taser works, but there’s no need since I found this awesome graphic:

How a Taser Works Source: James Hilston, Post Gazette
How a Taser Works Source: James Hilston, Post Gazette

Interesting fact #3: The instructors say that the worst part of being Tased is pulling the fish hooks out of your skin after the Taser is fired.  Tasers eject standard fish hooks (size six, I think).

This week, the academy will come to an end (sniff).  So far, it’s been an excellent adventure.   I’m looking forward to learning how 911 works and wrapping things up with our celebration party.

Advertisements

Citizen Law Enforcement Academy: Week 3

Lethal Weapon moview poster Source: Wikipedia
Lethal Weapon movie poster Source: Wikipedia

Last week’s class took us off the edge of the map and into Brooklyn Park where Hennepin County’s Enforcement Services is headquartered.

Little did I know we were in for an action-packed evening of the “Lethal Weapon” kind, with demonstrations by the Emergency Services Department (ESD), Special Operations Unit (SOU) and Volunteer Services Department (VSD).

The Emergency Services Department (ESD) is comprised of patrol, water patrol, transport, special operations, and the K-9 unit.  The patrol unit does pretty much what you’d think it would do: emergency response and the servicing of civil papers and warrants.  Interesting fact #1: By law, arrest warrants must be served after 7am.  Many are served at 7:01am.  “So, if you’re a criminal, set your alarm clock before 7am,” an academy classmate says.  After a short pause, the police officer who’s been speaking to us replies, “Yeah, I don’t think the homes we go to have clocks.”  Well alright, then…

The water patrol unit is staffed to a large extent by volunteers and is tasked with law enforcement on the waterways and with patrolling 104 lakes and three rivers.  Minnesotans, can you name all three rivers in Hennepin County?  I got two: the Mississippi and the Minnesota.  The third is the Crow.

During the summer, one boat is permanently stationed at Lake Minnetonka to deal with its drunken horde of weekend warriors.  The officers said they do a lot more educating of the public than enforcing of the laws.  Interesting fact #2: After two hours, a water patrol search and rescue will morph into recovery mode.

The Special Operations Unit (SOU) includes the Emergency Management Team, Hennepin County Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Tactical Response Team, Emergency Services Unit (ESU), Special Response, and Critical Infrastructure Protection Patrols.

WMD
Weapon of Mass Destruction           Source: cryhavok.org

The WMD team deals with biological, radiological, and chemical attacks.  They hold training sessions at high-risk targets including the Mall of America, Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport, and the Mississippi River and transportation targets like buses and the metro system.

They wear hazmat suits with external air tanks (similar to ones used in scuba diving) or else suits with built-in, recycled air units.  The WMD officer says the recycled-air hazmat suit makes you feel like you’re suffocating.

Doughboy
Me as the Pillsbury Doughboy with my husband, Harlan

I can relate to this feeling of suffocation, having once been paid $75 in graduate school to dress up like the Pillsbury Doughboy.  I will never forget the few seconds before the nasty recycled air kicked in and I could finally breathe.

The highlight of the evening is our visit with the Emergency Services Unit (ESU) which is basically the SWAT team.  ESU is involved in hostage rescue, barricaded suspect situations, and high-risk warrant service.  The SWAT team is involved in about 65 to 70 operations each year, mainly in Minneapolis.  “You should smell the testosterone when they come back from serving a warrant,” one of the female officers says, making the ESU team blush.

KSC_SWAT_team
SWAT Team                                                  Source: Kennedy Space Center

We get to look at their cool gear which includes guns, shields, and vests.  One of the rifles is specially equipped with foam bullets to mark a suspect with paint and bring them down with minimal injury.  “We aim for the big, meaty parts,” one ESU officer says.  “Backs, butts, and thighs are best.”

They let us pick up their riot shields. One is built to stop handguns and the other, rifles.  The handgun riot shield weighs about the same as my son, a 30-pound toddler.  “Now, don’t throw out your back picking up that shield. I don’t want you to call in sick to work tomorrow,” one of the officers says to me.  I give him a look.  I’m a stay-at-home mom: My job is 24/7 and unfortunately, I can’t call in sick.  Ever.

SWAT Team Source: The New Yorker
SWAT Team
Source: The New Yorker

The other riot shield made to stop rifle bullets weighs at least 50 pounds.  It’s crazy heavy.  “Who carries this?”  I ask.  “There’s one guy on our team who can hold it the entire length of a raid.  He’s huge.  Otherwise, we take turns holding it,” one officer says.  “And we use both hands to hold it,” another one adds.  “I don’t.  I just use one hand,” a third officer says.  The other officers just raise their eyebrows at him.  It takes a lot of cojones to be a part of the ESU team: I’m sure some braggadocio is par for the course.

We’re also given the opportunity to try on their heavy green flak vests.  I’m eyeing one of the vests when an officer says, “Careful.  You’ll mess up your hair.”  It’s like he’s waved a red flag under my nose.  I lunge for the vest.  “I’ll take that,” I say. Someone from the Sheriff’s Office takes a photograph of me.  In my mind, I looked like this:

SWAT
SWAT team member                            Source: Wikipedia

But I’m pretty sure I looked like this instead:

TMNT
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles           Source: Rolling Stone

Stay tuned: this week, we’re going to tour the Crime Lab.

Who are you, you, you? I really wanna know….

Citizen Law Enforcement Academy: Week 1

Source: Hennepin Co. Sheriff's Office
Source: Hennepin Co. Sheriff’s Office

Last week, I’m wandering around South 4th Street in Minneapolis with my face buried in a map when a woman wearing a uniform asks me, “Are you here for visiting hours?”

Huh?

“You’re not here to visit someone in jail?”

“No.”

Turns out the building I’m looking for also houses the holding jail, but I’m heading there to attend the Hennepin County Sheriff Office’s Citizen Law Enforcement Academy instead.  The academy is a six-week course offered free of charge to anyone who is interested in learning how law enforcement and the criminal justice system work.

“You’re probably going to learn a lot tonight.  A lot,” the uniformed lady says before she points me in the right direction.

After being herded through a metal detector, our group of thirty is escorted upstairs into a classroom.  Four of my classmates are fellow Twin Cities Sister in Crime members: Theresa Weir, Kristin Lerstrom, M.E. Bakos, and Midge Bubany.  Also present are Midge’s husband/chauffeur, Tim, and a friend from my mystery writing group, Rose Stanley-Gilbert.  A female deputy tells us they’ve had several crime writers take this course including Sister in Crime’s own Julie Kramer.  It seems we’re in good company.

Tonight, we’ll be hearing from Sheriff Richard W. Stanek and several departments in Investigations including Criminal Information Sharing and Analysis (CISA), Detective Unit, and the Violent Offender Task Force (VOTF).

Citizens Academy week 1
Sheriff Stanek presents at the Spring 2015 Citizen Law Enforcement Academy. Source: Hennepin Co. Sheriff’s Office Facebook page

Some of the officers seem to get a kick out of having crime writers in the audience.

One of the detectives ends his presentation with a special request for the Sisters in Crime members: “I know you’re all looking for material.  If you use me as a character in your book, please make me taller than I am in real life.”

The highlight of the evening is a presentation by two officers assigned to the Violent Offenders Task Force (VOTF).  Comprised of deputies from the Sheriff’s Office and from some of the higher-risk cities within the county, VOTF works with data analysts in CISA to identify both crime trends and the most dangerous criminals in Hennepin County at any given time.

Since they work undercover, I’ll refrain from describing the VOTF deputies other than to say they are a writer’s dream come true.  I’d love to take the deputies’ quirky looks and personalities and just drop them —plop– straight into my story.

Things I learn from the deputies:

-VOTF is a young person’s game.  Eventually, you will age out of VOTF, probably after five years.

-They wear normal clothes and drive unmarked cars.  They are nic-certified, meaning they can field test for narcotics.

-They have some cases that are assigned to them but in general they get to create their own investigations.

-Their work usually involves busts where they find “a couple of guns and some drugs”.

-It’s hard work to cultivate informants and yes, informants are as annoying as you’d think they’d be.

The deputies spend a lot of time chasing down or babysitting their informants but, as one of the deputies says during their presentation, “What am I gonna do?  Get information about drug dealers from you?”  He bends down and looks at me.  “Do you know any drug dealers?”

It’s a rhetorical question, right?

At the end of their presentation, the VOTF deputies allow us to handle confiscated weapons including an AK-47.  We also get to try on bullet-proof vests.  I wish I could have taken a photo of the SinC members wearing those vests, but photos were forbidden due to the sensitive nature of the VOTF deputies’ work.  I hope we can get a group picture soon.

AK-47 Source: Wikipedia
AK-47 Source: Wikipedia

As the lady in uniform predicted, I learned a lot.  Can’t wait to see what week number two of the academy will bring.