The Thomson Police Department is continuing its efforts to ensure that local officers are continually practicing and learning solid law enforcement skills.
The most recent effort brought Senior Public Safety Risk Consultant David Trotter to Thomson to provide three days of training entitled "De-escalation and Response to Resistance," what is commonly referred to as deadly force training. Thanks to Local Government Risk Management Services, which insures cities and counties, the training only cost the participating departments the time for their officers to attend.
Thomson Police Chief Courtney Gale said she is always seeking these opportunities for the good of her officers and the good of the community. While more experienced officers benefit from the chance to refresh their knowledge and practice skills, that is even more important for newer officers.
"They need to understand the complexities of what we do a little more, and this class gives them that perspective of how fast it happens and the laws behind it," she said. "There's so many factors that go into it."
Trotter said this particular training aims to help officers handle dangerous situations in a way that preserves the safety of the officer, the subject and the public.
"We want to help officers making better decision as for use of force to combat resistance and de-escalated situations," said Trotter. "We're trying to get them to verbally respond better to situations when it is appropriate and use force within the constitutional requirements and state law, all while practicing officer safety."
The goal, said Trotter, is to prepare officers to best elicit positive outcomes in the field.
"Our ultimate goal is when we have a citizen encounter — even when they have broken the law — is compliance," he said. "We never want to use force, but we have to use force sometimes. We'd love for all these interactions to have a great outcome."
Members at all levels of the Thomson Police Department, the McDuffie County Sheriff's Department, and the Twin City Police Department attended one full day of the training each to get a refresher on the law and best practices, as well as experience dealing with potential situations through the use of an incident simulator. There was also ample discussion among those attending regarding various scenarios and experiences both in the classroom and in the field.
Overall, the training goal was to improve officer communication skills, enhance decision-making skills, increase officer safety, reduce violator injuries, build on existing training, evaluate current force options, and identify positive solutions for various situations.
During simulator sessions, officers were told of a situation they were being sent into and then had to respond to the situation live as it was presented on a video screen. At various times, the officers tested and then had available a variety of tools including pepper spray, a mock taser and mock firearms.
Each mock session was followed by a discussion of how the officer had responded, how he or she had used active listening and other negotiation skills to diffuse the situation, and/or responded with force.
"We don't want to be the reason the situation goes bad, that the situation escalates," Trotter told participants during one session. "In most cases, we have some discretion. We don't need to make an arrest right away."
Law enforcement offers at all levels who had the opportunity to participate in the training said these sessions are very important — even for the most experienced officers.
Sgt. Richard Knowles of the Thomson Police Department said the combination of reviewing case law, constitutional law and discussing and simulating real-world situations benefits every officer — and the public.
"It is not only a requirement, but very necessary. The more training you have, the better off everyone is," he told The McDuffie Progress. "The discussion and reminders of different elements of case law.... those are things we do every day. The training we do get, whether repetitive or not, helps everybody, the officers and the public both."
McDuffie County Sheriff's Deputy Travis Whitaker agreed.
"Without training, you don't sharpen your skills. It keeps you up-to-date on the latest practices and case law in order to do your job," he said.
Thomson investigator Sgt. Chris Mullis reiterated that no matter how long someone is on the force, review and practice are always helpful.
"You've got to refresh your skills. This is our form of practice," he said. "And looking at case law and the Civil Rights Act are very good to refresh yourself on what's expected."
New officers said the training is vital to their development of good skills.
Twin City police officer Tiffany Dixon, who just joined the force last September, attended a day of the training along with her police chief, Hank Withers.
"This is keeping me street-safe," she said of the training. "It keeps it fresh in your brain, because in real life situations, it can tend to leave you a little bit."
Thomson police officer Angelika McDonald, who graduated from the academy with Dixon, agreed.
"It helps us decide what force to use and when to use it," she said. "I'm really new, so it opens my eyes on situations I may get into and the options I have."
Officer Anthony Shelton, who graduated from the police academy last July said, he, too, appreciates the opportunity to keep training.
"To me, it's one of the more important things. Being able to keep our skills up, especially with the law changing and especially with mental health issues," he said.