A Course In Force

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Carroll County criminal justice students learn how to use force — from mere police presence to lethal action — to keep the peace.

By Christopher Brooke, Reporter



HILLSVILLE — A hands-on lesson at Carroll County High School on Tuesday involved students exercising use of force procedures in their criminal justice class.
Coming as close as possible to encountering an aggressive angry drunk, students learned when to wield a baton against a belligerent subject and when to go for their “sidearm.”
The scenario often involved a student responding to a complaint of loud music or drunk in public to confront an uncooperative person.
Teacher Greg Bolen, clad in a red protective suit to take the battering, played his role to the hilt, probably informed during real-life situations from his tenure as a police officer.
He’d act like a unruly citizen, sitting on his porch, loudly enjoying alcohol, to the frustration of his imaginary neighbors.
Students would approach and try to assess what was going on and engage the citizen.
“I don’t have to deal with this — I’m a taxpayer,” said Bolen. “I’m going in the house.”
The students had to take control, first trying verbal commands. Bolen might act like he would cooperate while stepping towards the officer and then lunge for their baton.
Once he told a student there was someone behind them — and then made a grab for the weapon.
Bolen might throw a punch or kick or try to wrest the baton out of their hands.
Students struck with the baton at the leg to hobble the aggressor or pushed the assailant away with two hands on the weapon, known as a “clearance strike.”
Some students swung harder than others. Bolen might take several hits with the padded suit before dropping to a knee and raising his hands over his head.
Female students didn’t tend to wind up as much as the guys.
Some of the blows would still leave a mark. “I’ve got bruises,” Bolen said.
“In this scenario, I got a gun,” Bolen said quietly. “I’m going to see if she drops her baton and goes for her gun.”
If the subject has a weapon, the students should get rid of the baton and go for their own weapon.
“Throw it,” he encouraged them. You don’t want it anywhere near where an assailant could grab it or you could trip on it.
“It doesn’t matter if it goes in the bushes, you can get it later,” Bolen added. The important thing is the officer stays safe.
The goal is to teach students all aspects of use of force, from legal considerations and policy and procedures that different departments give to their officers, Bolen explained afterward.
Sometimes the officer’s presence might diffuse a situation, or a subject might desist with just verbal commands, he said. But an officer might have to move to what’s called “empty hand control,” either minimal force to guide, hold or restrain a person or strikes, punches or kicks in an encounter.
If that doesn’t work, an officer would use “less lethal” force, like pepper spray, baton or Tasers.
“The final stage is deadly force,” according to Bolen. “This is when the police officer has no other choice but to use deadly force to protect his life, the life of a victim or the lives of innocent citizens.”
Officers, through training, need to decide how meet threats. The situation may quickly change to require deadly force. Bolen explained that officers might not be able to go through every level of use of force, depending on what arises.
 The students also learn about de-escalation of force — this is where the police officer may have to use less lethal methods on the offender, such as pepper spray, and then de-escalate to help the offender, the teacher said.
“The main points in a confrontation are safety and control,” he stressed.
Police academy Director Marty Alford supplied the protective gear for the lesson, Bolen said.
School Resource Officer J.B. Gardner (and past teacher) also supplies valuable assistance to the class.