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LAPD field trip, part II

A KOD member shooting a TASER

Ever wonder if a police officer’s been on the wrong end of a TASER? Do they even understand what kind of pain they’re inflicting? Well, as a matter of fact, yes. At least in the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), where every recruit gets a real shock during training.

Tuesday’s post was all about my morning with the LAPD while I was out in Anaheim for the RWA National Conference. But that only covered what we did before lunch. More fun awaited us in the afternoon at the Edward M. Davis Training Facility in Granada Hills.

My group started with a TASER demonstration. I won’t go into the specifics on the TASER since I already covered it in my post on the Fairfax County PD, but getting to see a TASER in action was new. I certainly wouldn’t want to be on the wrong end of that weapon!

Prepping for the FOS

The real fun came with a demonstration of the Force Option Simulator (FOS). The FOS is like an oversized video game where you react to what’s happening on the screen. My partner and I were issued simulated weapons–heavy like a real handgun–and stood before a large video screen where a scene played out with a bank robber running from the building with a duffel bag. When he pulled a gun, I shot three times, missing the first time, hitting him in the lower leg the second, and getting him in the chest on my third shot.

I was proud of my aim, but unfortunately, his getaway driver—whom I hadn’t even noticed—shot me. Oops. Situational awareness, anyone? Sadly, my partner didn't manage to get her gun out of the holster. The pictures of us in action didn’t come out, but I have a shot with my red “gun” for posterity.

Street weapons (L), LAPD weapons (R)

Next up was the live shooting demo. We got an overview of some of the scary weapons officers face on the street, and a rundown of some of the firearms they have in their arsenal. A couple of officers from the LAPD shooting team demonstrated the power of a Springfield Armory 1911, .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol), and a Benelli M4 Super 90 semiautomatic shotgun (see video).

Showing the minimal spread of buckshot on a target

Apparently, a lot of people think a shotgun sprays pellets all over the place and will take out several people with one shot. According to the target (see photo, the groin “injury” is not related…) that’s not the case. While the shot does spread out, it still stays pretty tightly grouped. Devastating to the target, but not so much to anything around it.

Probably the most exhilarating part of the day was on the Emergency Vehicle Operations Center (EVOC) driving track. This is where trainees learn how far they can push their vehicles, and current officers practice their skills. It’s also where I turned a bit green after half a dozen high speed turns on the winding, hilly track at 50-60 mph with the lights flashing and the sirens screaming. (There’s a reason I don’t like to sit in the back seat.)

Talk about pulling Gs! Nauseating, but in that fun, can’t-stop-laughing-and-screaming, roller coaster ride sort of way. Every time we took a tight curve I swore the car would flip. The tires chirped and my gut rolled, but we held tight to the road.

Getting ready for my wild ride on the EVOC track

I had fun on the FCPD track in the spring, but this ride was beyond awesome.

My stomach got a chance to relax with our last presentation of the day, a visit with the Volunteer Surveillance Team (VST). The VST is a group of civilians living in the area they serve who get special training to watch for and report criminal activity.

What a cool concept. When crime goes up in an area—say burglaries or graffiti tagging—the LAPD can send in the VSTs. These men and women use their own vehicles to surveil assigned areas and call in crimes in progress. Unlike cops, they go unnoticed by the criminals, giving the police a chance to catch the bad guys in action or just after they commit a crime. Often the culprit wonders how the police knew he was there because the VSTs never get involved in the actual apprehension.

They brought up the common scenario of thieves knocking on the door to a house and then breaking in when no one answers. My question: What should I do if I’m home but don’t want to answer the door? The answer: Make noise so they know someone’s home.

It might feel rude to let an innocent salesperson know you’re deliberately ignoring his or her summons, but it beats being burgled or robbed! Besides, you didn’t ask them to knock on your door to sell you vinyl siding, tree trimming, or a faster Internet connection.

My new favorite mug

That locks up my day at the LAPD. I hope you enjoyed the recap. If you ever get a chance to visit your local police department or be part of your citizens police academy, I highly recommend it. Writer or not, it’s worth your time.

Photo credit: All photos are my own work except the one of me in the helmet, which is used by permission from Kristina Allew.

Citizens Police Academy-week 4: TASERs, probable cause, IA

The TASER X26 (www.taser.com)

This week’s CPA class was about TASERs, reasonable suspicion, probable cause, use of force, and Internal Affairs. Apparently TASER stands for Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle, after a children’s book character from the early 20th century. The inventor was a fan. The big takeaway from the presentation was that TASERs—or ECDs, for electronic conductive devices—are safe.

They may pump you full of voltage, but if you know anything about electricity, you know it’s the amps that kill you. And ECDs put out very few amps. The shock confuses the electrical signals in your muscles, causing them to contract. Since they’re all contracting at once (those between the two barbs of the ECD), the muscles lock up and the person can’t move.

We watched a video where two medium-sized cops were trying to arrest a 350-pound man, Mike, who looked like a WWE wrestler. Mike’s hands were almost twice as big as the officers’. No way could they go hands-on with this guy and win. So when he repeatedly refused to put his hands behind his back, even after they warned him what would happen, they had a third officer “tase” him.

Mike locked up and the two officers lowered him to the ground onto his stomach. The ECD discharges for five seconds, after which Mike was back to his old belligerent self. Another warning, another shot of voltage, and finally the big guy got the idea.

Mike later said, “I’ve been shot, I’ve been stabbed, but damn, that hurt.” But he was able to walk away, maybe a little wiser, maybe not.

After the TASER presentation, we learned about reasonable suspicion, probable cause, and use of force. Here are my takeaways:

  • If an officer stops you because they suspect you are up to no good, they must be able to articulate for the magistrate the thought process behind it. The supreme court has ruled that it must be reasonable, not that the officer has to be correct.
  • The key is to be able to prevent crime, not to have to wait until it takes place before stopping someone.
  • They can frisk you if it’s reasonable to expect that you might have a weapon, either based on previous experience with this type of person (e.g. drug dealers), or because they see a sign of it (e.g. bulge on hip).
  • They can search anything within lunging distance of the suspect—like a backpack or under the seat of your car—if they suspect a weapon might be there also.
  • How much force the officer uses is entirely up to the suspect. Resist and get tased. Fight back and get mace or a nightstick. Pull any kind of deadly (including a knife) or incapacitating weapon (like another officer’s TASER), and expect to be shot. In the chest.
  • Officers don’t shoot to wound or slow down. They always shoot to kill.

Again, they must be able to articulate why they escalated to a certain level of force, but it just has to be reasonable under the circumstances that faced the officer in the half of a second they had to make the call.

We ended the night with a presentation by Internal Affairs. In Fairfax County, it’s an involuntary rotation of about two years, offered to those officers who’ve distinguished themselves in their service. It’s not a coveted assignment, but it’s almost a requirement for them to move up in the chain of command.

IA’s purpose is not just to catch officers in the wrong. It’s also to protect them from false allegations. IA investigates every citizen complaint, every police cruiser accident (even opening the door into a pole or tree), every use of force, as well as charges of corruption, lying, and so on. For smaller incidents (e.g. the car door meets pole), the investigation/punishment is handled at the station level and merely tracked by IA.

If criminal charges are involved, they do a separate investigation, and usually wait until the criminal charges are resolved. IA investigations are only for purposes of determining which type of action the department should take, and do not get involved with criminal proceedings.

If an officer is under investigation for something serious, IA will take his badge, credentials, and service weapon, and put him on administrative leave with pay until the matter is resolved.

If a police officer is involved in a shooting, he gives up the weapon and talks to IA, the Criminal Investigations Bureau (to be covered in a later week), and a psychologist. If it’s determined that the shooting was probably a “good” one, the officer will be put on administrative duty and given a replacement firearm for his safety (unless he seems too shaken up or mentally unprepared to handle a weapon).

The Chief of Police has the final say on all punitive action within the department.

We got to ask lots of questions, and I could share so much more, but I'm sure you're sick of me by now. 🙂

Sorry this is a day late. I got caught up organizing my expenses for the accountant. Yuck!