CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- Each year, the Charleston Police Department gives citizens an opportunity to experience and learn the ins and outs of the department through an 8-week Citizens Police Academy.

On Wednesday nights, a group of roughly twenty individuals, including myself, gather to experience a training course nearly identical to what future CPD officers go through.

“You’ll get an overall view of how our training operates,” Captain Kristy McFadden, Division Commander of Community Oriented Policing said. “I hope that [participates] can just see what we go through on a daily basis and just get a better understanding of law enforcement and our interaction with the community.”

The purpose of the course, according to Deputy Chief Chito Walker, is two-fold: a civics lesson and insight into the policies and procedures of the Charleston Police Academy.

“This is the platform we want to use to educate and it’s not to sway, it’s to educate,” Deputy Chief Walker said. “This is your agency and you need to know what we do.”

The first week began with a classroom lesson on response to response resistance and aggression, more commonly known as the use of force, taught by Master Police Officer Omar Bautista.

According to Officer Bautista, about 97% of what a police officer does is called “soft skills,” or everyday skills like ticketing, administrative duties, court appearances, and public engagement. The other 3% is “hard skills,” or using force to affect and arrest a person.

We began with a look at the constitutional standard, specifically Graham v Connor which dictates the use of force. In that case, the Court established that all force must be reasonable and necessary and that an officer’s actions will depend on the subject’s action.

Officer Bautista explained that there are six levels of resistance that an officer may face and five levels of force available to an officer.

The CPD training manual states: “It is the policy of the Charleston Police Department that its officers use only the amount of force that is objectively reasonable to achieve legitimate law enforcement objectives.”

For the class, this was explained in terms of the ladder:

  1. Officer Presence
  2. Verbal Direction
  3. Empty Hand Control (ex. knee drive to the thigh)
  4. Intermediate Weapons (ex. OC spray, taser, baton)
  5. Deadly Force

The use of force model that CPD uses is similar to the one below:

But, we would not just be learning about proper responses. In week two, we would be asked to put that learning to the test at the CPD training warehouse.

When we arrived, Sgt. Joseph Harvill, Training Coordinator of the Professional Development and Training Office, explained that we would apply the use of force continuum in scenario-based training.

He told us that the scenarios we would see were the exact same ones they use to test police officers in training with the same roleplayer.

“It’s identical,” Sgt. Harvill explained. “Everybody will be doing it exactly the same as our officers do it.”

We were given a holster and split up into two groups. The first group participated in “box drills,” or mini-scenarios that lasted anywhere from 5 to 10 seconds apiece. A roleplayer emerged from behind the wall and we had to react with whichever force option we felt was appropriate.

In doing so, we were taught how to use a taser, baton, OC/pepper spray, and a firearm properly. According to one of the officers, of the more than 200,000 calls that the Charleston Police Department fields each year, a taser is used only 8 to 13 times.

The scenarios ranged from a father who had lost his child to an aggressor lunging toward you with a knife.

CPD officials consistently emphasize that officer presence and community engagement are at the core of policing, which is what they want to stress to officers in training.

“All different scenarios that you’re responding to, you’re getting people in crisis,” Sgt. Harville said. “Essentially get them comfortable with being uncomfortable and creating quick dialogue, rapport building, and figuring out some manner handle the situation safely.”

Deputy Chief Walker encouraged us to explore the anxiety and adrenaline we felt during the scenarios and how it might parallel what Charleston police officers experience each time they go to work.

The second group was asked to demonstrate decision-making in the VIRTRA simulator.

“VirTra helps prepare law enforcement officers for real-life incidents so they and the communities they serve can remain safe. Each real-world judgmental use of force training simulator has surreal scenarios that provide an in-depth look into human performance,” the VIRTRA website reads.

In the simulator, each participant was presented with a scenario and needed to react and respond as it was real, providing first-hand examples of scenarios officers may encounter.

“It forces you to interact and communicate and there is a narrative that is prerecorded however there are certain branches that can be taken with that depending on how the officer or student is interacting during that program,” Sgt. Harvill explained.

Sgt. Harvill said the Charleston Police Department has been using this technology to train officers for more than a decade.

“The virtual simulator was in our agency prior to 2008,” Sgt. Harvill said, adding that the first generation may have dated back as early as the 1980s. “We upgraded two years ago to this V100 system that we now run which is a lot more interactive and a little bit better for the performance objectives we give the officers.”

The training we underwent on Wednesday night is the same training that officers must do every year as part of their recertification.

As the class concluded, Deputy Chief Walker explained that the best way to ensure that Charleston police officers are using the appropriate level of force is to cultivate a professional culture, something that he takes a specific interest in as Procedural Justice and Community Policing Bureau Commander.

*EDITOR’S NOTE: This course is specific to the Charleston Police Department and reflects only the training, policies, and procedures of that agency. Each law enforcement agency/department has its own standards and guidelines.