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Officers Trained on Reaction Time

Oct 07, 2015 12:30PM ● Published by Bryan Scott

By Stacy Nielsen

Police Chief Kevin Thacker presented to the city council a budget, staffing levels, response times, other policies or activities, equipment and what challenges the departments are facing currently, along with the move to implement the use of body cameras for all patrol officers at an August council meeting. 

City council members were also given a tour of the police department, and were able to participate in a simulation training to gain a better understanding of what police officers experience daily; along with the type of training they receive.

The Sandy City Police Department is led by Thacker, and as of August of this year consists of 111 sworn police officers, eight animal service officers, 26 full and part-time civilian support staff and around 60 part-time school crossing guards and two part-time contract positions.

 “It’s a good reminder of what we go through. All of our city council was surprised at the experience: if citizens understood it, they’d have a different perspective of the police,” Councilman Steve Fairbanks, a former police officer for Salt Lake City, said. 

“What you see on the television is an erroneous depiction of policemen; it’s boredom accentuated by minutes of terror, that you have to react as a result of good training. That’s what it takes, and we demand training of our police,” Fairbanks said.

“Our job is to come in and clean up after the crime and solve crime in the best possible way. We don’t expect to have someone with a gun in their lap, ready to shoot someone. You don’t know how people are going to act; you get as prepared as you can and then hope that your training comes in at the moment that’s needed in the best possible way,” Fairbanks said.

Training occurs one Tuesday a month for 10 hours, and there is a mandatory amount of training that is to be met every year. Firearms training is typically every month, and officers can go to the FARM where they receive long-range gun training. They go through classroom training, and recently attended a class on peer support.

There are many officers that used to be in the military, but there are other officers that don’t have that training and background, and they need the peer support and emotional training. Officers have mentors assigned to them when they come on board, someone who is not their training officer, so they have someone they can talk to while trying to deal with the emotional and the physical aspect of things. 

“They train for something they hope they never have to use; you can’t train once and think that is enough,” Thacker said.

A Sandy City patrol officer who has been with the department less then a year, spoke regarding the different aspects of the job that officers are trained to do. “We learn how to deal with situations with the public, learn how to survive, learn how to communicate with other people,” including how to deal with different mental health issues, such as autistic children or adults with autism.

“Sandy gives a lot of great training. We are a central hub for a lot of different training for the surrounding areas,” he said.

Startling data reveals a suspect can raise and fire a gun in as little as 0.25 seconds, depending on the start position, which is less time than it takes to blink; the average reaction time of officers is about 1/3 of a second. The greater amount of possible responses will result in slower reaction times.

“You are going to be called and you want to have the training to respond in the best way possible and not, ‘Oh, what do I do?’” Thacker said. 

The Sandy City Police Department responded to 57,455 calls for service in 2014. That number is down from 73,173 in 2012 and 67,644 in 2013. The decrease in calls per service is attributed to the department switching their dispatch to Salt Lake City Dispatch in Nov. 2013.

According to the Sandy City Use of Force Database Report, between the period of July 1, 2013 through July 1, 2014, there were 107 cases or events involving 259 uses of force. Uses of force on this report also means show of force, such as an officer showing but not discharging their firearm or taser. 

Each officer that responds to a call counts as a use, or show of force, per case; this is how you can get 259 uses, or shows of force, with 107 cases. The number of cases from July 01, 2014 to July 01, 2015 was 115, involving 336 uses of force.

The number one use of force for both was hands-on with 117 incidents in the 2013-14 range and 154 incidents in 2014-15, all found to be justified. Compare this number to the calls of service the officers receive each year -there was one reported incident of an officer discharging their firearm in the 2013-2014 year - and it was found to be justified. 

“I think it is getting more dangerous out there. We are trying to train more, you are seeing more of where we are pulling more guns off the street,” Thacker said. 

Sandy City currently has 10 body cameras and money is set aside to buy more. The goal is to eventually have the entire patrol division equipped with body cameras, roughly 50 cameras, and within the next year to see at least half the division with cameras, depending on funding, and increasing in the next year to 18 months. 

The department is waiting to see what parameters state legislation will implement so they can be adapted to meet their needs, as the state does not mandate that departments have them but on how they use them. This may also affect how many are purchased. 

Some of the issues they face with the implementation of more body cameras includes being able to meet staffing requirements to manage the requests for data, how they are going to meet the storage needs for the data recorded and what guidelines have to be established that dictate how long the information will be stored.

“They are going to pick up things maybe the officer doesn’t pick up, or the officer will pick up things the camera won’t pick up, but it’s another tool that can be used. They are not perfect but have to be used as a tool and not to be solely depended upon. They are a good thing; statistics show it does affect the way officers act if you know you are being recorded. It has been reported that officer complaints have dropped since the use of body cameras, especially the use of force complaints,” Thacker said. 

“You are in a society where the perception of law enforcement is changing, the laws are always changing and the rules are changing that are needing to be enforced. There are going to be mistakes, if that happens, call the police department, report it and we will address it,” Thacker said.

Residents are able to sign up for the annual Citizens Training Academy that takes place once a year in the springtime. The Academy meets about three hours a night, one night a week for 10 weeks, and is designed to familiarize citizens with every aspect of police work.

“It does seem cliché. I don’t do this because they give me a gun and a badge. I do it to serve the public and to save lives and to save property,” a Sandy Police officer said. “I wish they [the public] would understand what we go through as far as everyday situations, from giving a lost kid a teddy bear to having to turn around to take someone’s life because they are trying to kill you or kill somebody else. I wish they knew we are here to serve.”

“People need to understand that police officers are human. They have emotions, feelings and they are really doing the best job they can,” Thacker said.

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