Back to Basics: A 17-year law enforcement veteran goes back to basic training
March 25, 2022
Great news! Friday evening’s carbine rifle qualifications went off without a hitch! Everyone qualified the first time with some high scores. Three people got 100s, and I was excited to be one of them! I don’t recall having had a rifle qualification score of 100 before. I am very proud of how quickly my classmates progressed from starting live-fire training with the carbine rifle Thursday morning to qualifying for the first time just a few hours later to qualifying at night on Friday after only a few hours of night-rifle training. My classmates and I are thankful for the quality one-on-one training we have received these last two weeks of firearms training. Even though I have many years of firearms training, I learned a few new things that added to my skills.
Monday was an exciting and stressful day. We were back at the range to learn building-entry techniques. This training is important for many reasons. Civil Process deputies serve evictions, which require them to clear residences of any occupants. They never know what they’re walking into and have to be prepared. As force multipliers for the Virginia Beach Police Department, we are trained to assist them on cases, if needed, and help with patrolling the Oceanfront. Many deputies work part-time security at events and venues, such as the amphitheater. And these techniques are also important in the event of an active shooter. They prepare our deputies to enter a building and neutralize a threat while minimizing the risk to our team and innocent civilians. Unfortunately, we saw how important these skills are during the May 31, 2019, shooting at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center. Our deputies were part of the response and their training was imperative that day.
The first part of training was a walk-through of the building – which has countless doorways, room layouts and entry points – as our instructors demonstrated the tactical entries we would be practicing. The building is like a maze, and it’s easy to get lost. I liked how they explained what we were doing, demonstrated the entry techniques and answered any questions so that we could put our training into practice during our drills. The VBSO does building entries slightly differently from what I learned many years ago in the Police Department, but there are many ways to be successful and use different techniques to accomplish the same goal, which is the safety of the public.
One thing I’m really enjoying about going through the academy again is seeing how law enforcement tactics have changed and improved over time. It’s also great to see how some of the “old” tried-and-true techniques have withstood the test of time.
After lunch we prepared for the “test” of our newfound skills – scenarios where the instructors would be hiding in the building and we would need to locate them and react appropriately based on the level of force necessary to neutralize the “threat” and gain compliance. For those not familiar with “simmunition” training, we have specially designed Glock handguns and carbine rifles that operate with paint rounds versus live ammunition. These simmunition rounds allow trainees to be placed in the most realistic situations possible while they’re learning without creating unnecessary risk. To get ready for the not-so-wonderful experience of being shot at by role players, we suited up in protective gear designed specifically for this type of training. The helmets look like Darth Vader costumes and, in my opinion, probably provide the same amount of auditory and visual clarity. The neck guards are designed to prevent one of the rounds from striking us in the throat, and we also wear a groin pad, which is new. I don’t recall having that during my previous academy, but I understand why it was added to our padding arsenal. Anyone who has been hit by simmunition rounds on bare skin or through clothing will not soon forget that experience. On bare skin they cause bruises and sometimes cuts, but for the areas covered with protective gear, a simmunition hit to the helmet, neck or groin is buffered and doesn’t even make you jump on impact.
I should know. I got “shot” on my right shoulder when a role player popped up from a barricade during scenarios and took shots at us. My partner and I engaged him with our simmunition handguns and stopped the attack. The purpose of these scenarios is to evaluate our tactics, identify any weaknesses and ultimately evaluate how we react under stress with lots of adrenaline and uncertainty, just like in a real-life situation.
After the scenarios the instructors go over the good, the bad and the ugly, addressing any mistakes, but also commending jobs well done. They record the scenarios so that, as a class, we can critique them. As you can probably guess, we make fun of each other a little, too.
We also had interview and interrogation class this week. I thoroughly enjoyed this class because it’s a topic I know well. In fact, interrogations were one of my favorite aspects of my police career. I have been told I can talk to anyone, including a chair (eye roll), which I think is a great skill to have in law enforcement. The cop shows on TV don’t show the amount of work that really goes into interrogations. There is a great deal of preparation: studying your subject, assessing their mindset and building rapport. Our deputies use their investigative skills daily while conducting their duties to keep the Virginia Beach Correctional Center safe. Our instructor went over interrogation techniques and we took turns in partner scenarios, using our training to try to identify when our partner was lying. It was quite the challenge! We learned a lot from this experience.
Thursday marked test No. 3 for us. We have been in firearms for a while now and we had to refresh our memories on the Laws of Arrest, which are on this test. They’re also critically important to ensure that any arrest we may conduct is lawful and constitutional. I am not going to lie, we’re all a bit tired from lots of physical training and exertion, but we’ve been laser-focused on doing well on this test, which can be make-or-break for some of us. We must meet the threshold average for the first three tests in order to pass and remain employed. No pressure, right?
Sheriff Ken Stolle often says that being a deputy sheriff is like being a police officer, a firefighter, a medic and a social worker all at once. I definitely think that’s true. Fires are a major risk to the jail, and we have to be prepared to respond if one occurs. We learned about the firefighting portion of the job during fire suppression training on Thursday. Not only did we have classroom instruction, but we went to the Virginia Beach Fire Training Center and completed a practical exercise where we put out two fires under the direction of master firefighters from the Virginia Beach Fire Department. I have always had the utmost respect for what they do every day, and this training only reinforced that respect. While watching my fellow classmates each go through the exercise, I saw how the constantly changing wind direction impacted the time it took to put out the fires, and how easily they could reignite. There are so many factors at play.
We also have our second LawFit assessment today. The instructors are looking to see how much improvement each recruit has made since day one of the academy. I have a goal in mind for the 1.5-mile portion of the test. I enjoy long-distance running with a passion, but it’s a whole different challenge to push myself on fast-paced shorter runs.
Unlike the academy, the LawFit run is more of a sprint than a marathon. I’ll let you know how we do next week. Wish us luck!
Photos by VBSO Public Information Officer Toni Guagenti