Above and beyond: Toledo cops train far beyond minimum requirementsWritten by Dave Willinger | | firstname.lastname@example.org
This spring the Toledo Police Department (TPD) has 40 newly sworn officers working the streets alongside its veteran cops; literally alongside because TPD requires its new officers to complete five months of field training following graduation from the academy.Those new officers and an upcoming fall class of 50 additional recruits are replacing cops lost to retirement and helping grow a force that in recent years has fielded lower officer:citizen ratios than recommended by professional law enforcement associations.
February’s academy grads hit the streets of Toledo with nearly twice the state-required course hours of law enforcement curriculum under their belts, said Lt. Gerard Matwiejczyk, commander of the Toledo police academy, who told Toledo Free Press the latest class logged an additional 400 hours of instruction over and above the nearly 600 hours required by the state.
At the Toledo police academy, Matwiejczyk said, trainees learn about the elements of an arrest, including evidence processing and subject control. They are taught tactics, weapon control and the proper way to write up an incident report, the commander said. While the supplementary hours of coursework often emphasize prevailing procedures and policies, Matwiejczyk said the city likes to “enhance all the important areas with hands-on training,” which includes practicing firearms skills at TPD’s Scott Park gun range and driving skills at a facility at Owens Community College.
Matwiejczyk believes in the benefits of the additional instruction.
“Since I took over [the police academy] in 2006 everybody has passed the state exam,” he said.
The Toledo police academy employs a cadre of instructors certified through the state in their areas of expertise. Toledo detectives introduce recruits to a wide range of skills from organizing a police line-up and the fundamentals of interrogation to processing a homicide scene. Because police officers are often the first on the scene of a homicide, the state requires recruits to know how to protect the evidence, safeguard the scene and do a preliminary investigation, Matwiejczyk said. The new officers must “know the exact steps [to take] when they go to a major crime scene,” he said.
In addition, officers of the vice squad lecture at the academy on illegal gambling and prostitution. When it comes to local laws of arrest and the county court system, Lucas County prosecutor Jeff Lingo and city attorney Dave Toska “log many hours to help us,” Matwiejczyk said.
Toledo is one of the last agencies in the state to operate its own police academy, said Robert Fiatal, executive director of the Ohio Police Officer Training Academy (OPOTA). Even Akron and Cincinnati, Fiatal said, no longer run a training school for police recruits, which means those cities must rely on hiring graduates from public academies, such as the academy operated by Owens Community College. Fiatal, who has headed OPOTA for four years, blames the economy for making it difficult for a municipality to sustain an academy in the face of few new hires.
“Toledo is blessed to be able to hire more officers,” said Fiatal, who retired as head of the FBI’s office in Akron after 25 years with the feds.
A wild ride
Probationary Toledo police officer Jordan Schotter demonstrated some of the skills learned in the academy on a recent midnight shift when the police radio crackled with a call of a “man with a machete.”
Schotter, 23, a graduate of St. John’s Jesuit Academy, drove his police cruiser “code 3” from the Public Safety building to an address in the Old West End to back up the officers assigned to the call. Schotter’s field training officer (FTO) Greg Zattau rode shotgun and a reporter bounced along in the uncushioned back seat of the cop car as it careened around corners and sped with “lights and sirens” through deserted intersections. For Schotter, it was just his twelfth night driving on duty. The young cop exhibited the confidence and control of a seasoned wheelman, while FTO Zattau, a 14-year veteran with a Google Earth grasp of the neighborhoods surrounding Downtown, gave his young partner succinct directions en route.
Arriving at the scene with the machete-wielder already in custody, Zattau stayed on the sidelines while his protégé assisted with “subject control.” Nobody was hurt but officers could not immediately find the large knife, which they suspected had been ditched in the dark yard behind the residence. Still, police confirmed the report, viewing damage to a clock and other items inside a house. The man “was swinging the machete all over the place,” according to another FTO on the scene.
Zattau, the FTO program coordinator, said three years with TPD is required of an officer who wants to serve as a field training officer, a volunteer role that earns the FTO a monetary stipend.
During field training, probationary officers rotate through three FTOs, usually working different shifts and patrolling various parts of the city, before finally reuniting with their first field trainer, who is responsible for their final evaluation. There is a checklist of 52 tasks that the FTOs ideally cover with their probies. Emergency driving and subject control are two examples. When a probationary officer has occasion to practice those tasks in the line of duty, the FTO will subsequently find a slow period during a shift to debrief the probie on his or her performance. If it is the determination of the FTO that a probationary officer at the end of their field training needs additional training in any areas, that probie may at the discretion of the department be held over in the field training program until the necessary skills or experience have been acquired, Zattau said.
While the streets are a constant teacher for all officers on patrol, TPD provides anywhere between 16 and 40 hours of mandatory in-service training annually. That includes an annual firearms qualification. This spring, Toledo police are also getting specific tactical training for dealing with a so-called “active shooter” scenario as the first officer on the scene.
Running the training are Toledo SWAT officers Sgt. Dan Raab and Corey Russell, who attended a three-day instructor training course at OPOTA in Columbus in preparation for teaching the course. Veteran SWAT members Russell and Raab also contributed input for the course.
While the state might have required such in-service training in the past, Fiatal said the costs to Columbus of mandating training are considered prohibitive in this economy. Doing some quick math, Fiatal put the price tag at about $5.5 million for Ohio to administer an eight-hour course to the approximately 34,000 peace officers on the job statewide. Due to the economic climate, no such supplemental training courses have been mandated for three years, Fiatal said.
Still, Fiatal, who reports to the state attorney general, called “the protection of our children” a “priority” of his and one that is shared by Andy DeWine. To that end, OPOTA, which teaches about 800 courses a year around the state at no charge to the agencies that sign up, has been holding its single-officer responder course at locations around the state. Because of the intense hands-on nature of the training, classes are limited to 20 officers, Fiatal said. Three such training sessions took place in the Toledo area in February, he said.
OPOTA has also trained 35,000 teachers in Ohio on how to recognize someone within their schools who might exhibit indications fitting the “profile of an active shooter.” The goal is for teachers to be able to refer such an individual to guidance counselors or school psychologists or even notify law enforcement if warranted in an effort to pre-empt another school shooting, for example. The teacher training also provides tactics to increase the chance of saving the lives of teachers and students in an active shooter scenario. That training was given in Toledo in February at the Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West, said Jill Del Greco, public information officer for the state attorney general.
The OPOTA-developed active shooter course for police officers currently being taught by Raab and Russell to all Toledo police officers includes a classroom portion that covers the history of SWAT. Since Columbine in 1999, when two teenagers in a Colorado high school continued to kill even as police contained the scene, it is widely accepted that the best way to deal with such a situation is for law enforcement to engage the shooter as soon as possible, Russell said.
The goal is to “stop the killing,” Raab said. To that end officers are taught to “aggress the shooter,” in SWAT parlance, despite the personal risk. It is clear from observing such tactical training that seeking cover, for example, is not a luxury the responding officer will necessarily have when dealing with an active shooter amidst unarmed civilians.
During the tactical portion of the training in an unused school building in Toledo, officers fire real guns loaded with nonlethal, training rounds made of soft plastic, bullets that still sting and can break the skin, said Officer Michelle Sterling, a 14-year veteran. And while an anatomical dummy may stand in for a stiff, make no mistake, the training is serious business. So realistic is the mindset of the participating officers that they typically need a moment before debriefing in order to recover from the hyperventilating effects of the adrenaline dump brought on by the role-playing.
Raab or Russell conducts a performance review with each officer, including how to improve his or her tactics and technique as well as stressing those things he or she did correctly, for example, announcing their presence inside the building.
“We want the bad guy knowing we’re here,” Raab explained.
In the majority of cases, Russell said, the shooter will surrender or commit suicide when confronted by police. That confrontation is likely to be swift and lethal: the responding officer is not about to give a warning or pull out a Miranda card when an active shooter has already demonstrated the propensity for violence and potential victims are present.
Where does the city find its officer trainees?
So do you think you have what it takes to become one of Toledo’s Finest?
Police spokesman Sgt. Joe Heffernan said the city takes candidates off the list of persons who scored highest on the most recent local civil service exam. For a class of 50, the city may begin with about 200 names. Candidates are culled through background checks. Any type of felony disqualifies a person from serving. Misdemeanors such as domestic violence also automatically disqualify an individual, although a disorderly conduct arrest, for example, would not necessarily bar a candidate, Heffernan said. But lying on your application will cause you to get booted of the list.
“Dishonesty is one thing we can’t tolerate,” Heffernan said.
The cops investigate all potential candidates.
“We talk to your neighbors,” Heffernan said, explaining one aspect of the effort that goes into the department’s background investigation.
The vetted candidates then undergo a second round of testing that includes psychological and medical tests as well as a physical agility test graded on a curve according to national standards for age and sex. Candidates must be between the ages of 21 and 34 to serve, and TPD has “one of the highest percentages of women” in uniform in the country, Heffernan said.
Information for anyone interested can be found at www.toledopolice.com.