Joe had a bat in his hand and voices in his head. He was confronted by two Mineral Wells police officers, patient but with their service weapons drawn in the event the situation escalated. Joe refused to comply with the officers’ requests to the bat down.
It ended with Det. Dustin Richardson seizing an opportunity to tackle and secure the mentally disturbed man, who had turned his back on Richardson long enough for him to rush in.
Fortunately for Joe and the officers, Richardson and Sgt. Darby Thomas, it was part of a live training event. The officers’ guns were loaded with non-lethal training pellets, and Joe was safely subdued with no one hurt.
The Mineral Wells Police Officers Association this week brought in field and classroom training and experts from the Texas Municipal Police Association to put officers through scenario-based training to help them deal with situations – or ones like them – they might encounter. It helps keep everyone – suspects, citizens and officers – safe.
Thomas and Richardson reflected on their encounter with “Joe,” played by one of the TMPA instructors as another instructor watched how the officers handled the situation. Joe moved around constantly while waiving his bat at times in threatening manners and rambling about hearing non-existent noises. While the officers might not ever encounter that exact scenario, they said it is not far removed from situations they occasionally face.
“We do run across a lot of mentally ill people who are disturbed, whether it’s a genuine mental illness or a lot of people are that way because of the drugs they take,” said Thomas. “You try to talk someone down if they are hearing voices. It is a situation you want to de-escalate.”
Added to the scenario was the appearance of a well-intentioned but armed citizen, wanting to see what was going on and if the officers needed help. The citizen was licensed to carry, but Thomas disarmed him and spoke with him briefly as Richardson kept an eye on and talking with Joe.
“We couldn’t have a guy armed standing behind us,” Thomas said.
One issue the officers dealt with in the scenario was Joe’s constant movements that put him directly between the officers, placing them in each other’s line of fire. That caused the officers to be aware of that and move in ways to avoid firing toward each other, if the situation came to that.
Richardson noted that typically the officers would have their Tasers deployed for this situation, not their service pistols. But because of the controlled setting, those were not part of the scenario. He said officers always want to use non-lethal means of compliance first. That is why he and Thomas stayed patient while talking to Joe.
“You don’t know what is going to work or what is not going to work,” Richardson said. “It’s just a matter of what triggers them to be compliant.”
“It just makes you think of all the scenarios that are out there,” added Thomas. “(The instructors) set that (scenario) up probably because they have dealt with that in their career. It kind of opens your eyes and gives you a broader image of what is going on.”
The next scenario Thomas and Richardson were placed in did not end well. They were placed in police vehicle and told to drive up to a parked truck where there were several people – including a despondent driver armed with a pistol. The officers patted down and pulled the other two people away from the vehicle then, again with their weapons drawn, tried coaxing the driver out of the truck.
Eventually the armed driver emerged from the vehicle, but after raising his gun in a threatening manner the officers fired rounds of “simunition” – small rubber pellets with pink chalk on the tips to mark the points of impact – at him, dropping him to the ground and ending the threat to themselves or others.
With a handful of new officers on the police force, and others who had not been through live scenario training since graduating from the police academy, the two days of training – classroom the first day then live simulations the next – Bryan Flatt, TMPA’s statewide training coordinator, said he recommends officers receive this type of training as often as possible.
“The goal is if we make any mistakes, we want to make them in the training environment so we can get them corrected,” Flatt said. “That way it doesn’t take place out in the real world. It helps everybody. The officers, the citizens, the police department, the city, the county, whoever is involved. The better trained our officers are the less likely they are to slip up.”
He said whether working in large cities or smaller ones, the training is vital to all officers.
“That’s why they have police departments, because there are criminals out there,” Flatt said. “There are still drunks who get pulled over and get arrested. People still fight and commit thefts and burglaries and domestic violence. (Mineral Wells officers) are not immune to it just because this is a smaller community.”
Richardson, who currently serves as president of the Mineral Wells Police Officers Association, said he hopes the association can provide this training regularly for local officers.
“It is vital to what we do on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “We don’t want to get complacent. We want to stay alert. For a lot of us it has been a while since we have done any kind of scenario-based training. We are hoping to be able to put this on at least every other year.”