By DAN SMALLWOOD
Capital News Service
LANSING – As violent attacks against law enforcement officers continue to rise, police departments are modernizing their training programs despite budget cutbacks.
Departments in Three Rivers and Sturgis are changing how and how often they train their officers.
Sturgis Deputy Chief Dave Ives said the biggest change is increased cooperation among departments. One approach is organizing consortiums with community colleges to maximize spending on training, including shared instructors.
“We’ve saved considerable money for good-quality classes we couldn’t otherwise afford,” he said.
Eighteen officers across the country have been killed in the line of duty already this year, 12 of them shot, according to the nonprofit National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund in Washington, D.C. In 2010, 61 officers were fatally shot, up from 49 in 2009.
Among those was Officer Larry Nehasil of the Livonia Police Department, who was killed by gunfire while conducting surveillance in January. Last year, members of the Detroit, Jackson, and Taylor police departments died in the line of duty. Four Detroit officers were wounded by gunfire in their station last month.
Ives said part of the changes in Sturgis involve better preparation for close quarters combat, including “defensive tactics training, ground fighting, pressure point control tactics and Tasers.” Tasers, a brand name for electroshock devices, in particular have been good for police and suspects, giving officers a “line in the sand” that elicits cooperation from suspects more readily, he said.
In Three Rivers, the police department has introduced a new defensive tactics course and increased its training budget.
Officer Eric Piper, its instructor, says the classes focus on close quarters defensive training. Prior to the new program, officers received four hours of such training per year.
Now the department will offer three or four classes each month. Officers must attend at least six per year, but can attend more, he said.
Piper said this type of training is something he’s wanted to offer for a long time.
“It was strange for me to get into police training and see how little of this they did,” he said.
According to Piper, the old system didn’t address close quarters situations and the necessary “core self-protection skills” that his department now focuses on.
He said it’s not unusual to be assaulted in the field, although not always with a deadly weapon. Therefore, the goal must be to prepare officers to think through scenarios in the best way possible.
Piper said psychological aspects are essential, especially making officers aware of potential challenges in the field.
Ives, of Sturgis, said all training must help officers to understand their limitations, both physical and mental, so they don’t wear themselves out on the job.
Departments across the state continue to face budget constraints, which can impede implementing such measures, Ives said.
In addition, the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards, which approves statewide standards for training, has only provided limited funding for such classes, and it is difficult to have supplemental requests granted, he said.
Terrence Jungel, executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association, cited declines in state funding of criminal justice programs, including prisons and reduced numbers of police, as increasing dangers for officers in the field.
“There’s only so much you can do to protect yourself,” he said. “It’s a very dangerous time to be a police officer.”
While the trend of fatal shootings is horrific, he said, the death of each officer is itself a tragedy.
“These are people, not just numbers,” he said.
With declining or stagnant funding, fewer police are on the rolls and more prisoners are being released early, Jungel said. That overall trend has led to a “precarious” situation where backup can’t arrive as quickly.
In addition, the struggling economy has supported more crime, placing a tougher burden on police, he said.
“Economics is the engine that drives the vehicle of public safety,” he said.
Gov. Rick Snyder’s creation of a Criminal Justice Advisory Council and increased focus on public safety are encouraging first steps, Jungel said.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.