I got to hit a guy with a baton today.
It wasn’t a real baton though, it was a foam baton. And the guy was wearing a big padded suit.
This was at the Winnipeg Police Service Headquarters Training Division at Smith and Graham, and it was part of something called ‘Use of Force Training’. More on the baton shortly…
Police invited members of the media to have a peek behind the curtain to learn about how officers are trained on the use of force, when it’s necessary to use it and what is an appropriate level of force.
The first part of our training was a lecture from Patrol Sergeant Julio Berzenji, who heads up the Officer Safety Unit. There were four officers present — joining Berzenji were Constables Dan Sorokowski, Colin Anderson and Dan Atwell.
(Sorokowski on the left, Berzenji on the right)
One of the reasons they wanted to bring us in — it is becoming more commonplace to hear about shootings involving police. But that’s what makes the news, right? It would be boring if we were to tell you a story that went something like “There were some angry men gathered outside a bar. Police showed up, nothing happened and everyone went home.” Berzenji acknowledged this, and then pointed to a statistic.
He says even though we all hear about situations where police have to use force, in 2015, Winnipeg Police responded to 201,175 calls. In 938 of those calls, officers had to use force. That’s 0.47%.
By the way, by force, we’re talking about when officers have to get physical to resolve a situation, so more then 200,000 calls were responded without incident.
We also discussed how it is the LAST RESORT for an officer to draw and fire a gun.
When is lethal force justified? It was explained to us “When a police officer fears grievous bodily harm or death to themselves or another person.”
It was also touched upon how officers are trained to shoot centre mass, so I asked Constable Dan Sorokowski — why not shoot at the leg? He says: Stress.
“Under the acute stress, especially in a life or death situation, your fine motor skills deteroriate very quickly. It’s just a natural response that happens in a stressful situation. We train the officers to shoot centre mass because that’s the largest target, and that’s going to be the best probability of neutralizing that threat.”
On that note, think of a time where maybe you’re in a rush to get out the door because you’re going to be late. Ever fumble your stuff? Drop your keys? Imagine that kind of stress kicking in as an assailant is ready to attack you, and possibly kill you. Think you could precisely fire a gun at someone’s leg?
I suppose this is a good time to move into me whacking a guy with a baton, because part of the reason for putting us through the physical scenarios was to show us what it’s like to deal with some of the stressful situations officers are faced with.
I didn’t deal with the stress all that well.
When the lecture was finished, they had us put on bulletproof vests and safety goggles, and trotted us off to one of their gyms. There were a variety of scenarios, mine involved the baton.
Constable Sorokowski showed me and another volunteer how to strike someone with the baton, ideally aiming lower towards the legs. Something to do with larger muscle groups, I don’t know. I was already stressing out just having to do this in front of a group of people. He explains that I’m going to face an assailant, and it’s my goal to subdue them.
I figured since we were shown how to use the baton, that I was supposed to go out and use the baton! Turns out, that wasn’t necessarily the case.
They then bring me to the middle of the gym where roughly 20 feet away from me is a mean-looking guy wearing a padded suit and boxing gloves.
(pic slightly out of focus because I was nervous. He was scary.)
Constable Sorokowski tells me it’s my job to arrest this man, and GO. I didn’t really know what I was supposed to do, so Sorokowski begain instructing me on what to do, that I need to tell him what I want him to do. What do I want him to do? I don’t know? So I say something like “Sir I need you to calm down, and put your hands behind your back.” The man responds along the lines of “I DON’T THINK SO. WHACHA GONNA DO ABOUT IT, PIG? C’MON PIG!”
I started giggling, because I felt foolish and was nervous and that’s what I do sometimes when I’m nervous, I laugh. Between my chuckles I tried to verbalize something intelligent, but I couldn’t really come up with anything. “Sir I need you to stand down.” “NO PIG. THINK THIS IS FUNNY, PIG?” Sorokowski continued to instruct me to tell this assailant what I want, use my words, talk him down. I failed in that instruction, eventually my assailant moved in on me, so I hit him a few times around the legs with the baton. Eventually Sorokowski called it off. I was hopeless, so I offer apologies to Sorokowski and all in attendance. Sorry everyone! I stink. The second guy who did the baton exercise did much better than I did. He didn’t even have to use the baton, he successfully talked him down.
Out of my embarassment though, came something important. It showed how stress can take over in a situation like this where force might need to be used. Obviously, this was a controlled environment, and a real police officer wouldn’t giggle like a fool when someone calls him a pig, but without that training, perhaps an officer might not know how to react. Patrol Sergeant Berzenji explained this particular part of the training is a bit of an ‘innoculation’ for recruits. Many of whom have maybe never been in a fight. When’s the last time you were in a fight? For me, I think it was Grade 8.
There were other scenarios demonstrated, Constable Dan Atwell ran some volunteers through situations where they got to fire guns! They were shooting blanks, but they were still guns.
I unfortunately didn’t get to see Constable Colin Anderson’s scenarios because I had to run before Impark towed my car.
The takeaway for me from all of this is — even though I found myself nervously laughing during my demonstration, the use of force is no laughing matter for Winnipeg Police and the Officer Safety Unit. There is a lot of training that goes into determining when they should use force, how much force they should use, and to try to avoid having to use force wherever possible.
Again: In 2014, over 200,000 calls, only 938 of which required the use of force to come to a resolution.
That means most of the day-to-day happenings for Police are rather uneventful, and that’s how they hope it stays.
(Me trying to look cool in the bulletproof vest.)