HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Many departments, including here in Huntsville take a number of precautions with their weapons; from the color and feel of them, to where each is located on their belts.
Training is everything, according to Academy officials for the Huntsville Police Department. A big part of that training is becoming an expert on the tools officers carry with them on the job.
“We learn each device separately and thoroughly then we learn how to encompass all of that into different tactics,” HPD Deputy Director or Training Lt. Tesla Hughes said.
While there is no state or countrywide standard for the way each department organizes officers’ belts, Lt. Hughes said HPD’s policy for their gun and taser placement was a decision carefully made to ensure a mix up could not come easily.
“Taser is a cross draw, so to actually draw our taser we have to reach across our body and get it from a different holster than weapon is carried in, which is going to be carried on our dominant side,” she said.
The holsters are reversed from one another, so the handles face opposite. The taser is also bright yellow and feels much lighter and in the hand because its plastic. Lt. Hughes says it’s also much less comfortable to un-holster.
“There is a toggle switch, so we will not only have to draw our taser but turn it on,” she said. “We do a lot of switches, changes up so it becomes second nature to us for what we need to draw.”
Each cadet or officer must complete a minimum 12-hour taser certification course before they are given a taser to use for de-escalation. Each officer also has taser recertification every year with the opportunity for clinics throughout the year to practice too.
HPD’s Academy trains cadets for 19 weeks before they move on to field training. The state only requires 14 weeks of total training. That adds an additional 200 hours for the cadets at Huntsville’s Police Academy to get repetition in scenario and weapons training.
HPD’s academy also requires an 80% pass rate for exams and qualifying tests, whereas the state only requires a 70% to pass.
“Its so engrained in us with repetition, practicals, stress induced practicals,” Hughes said. “we don’t even really have to think ‘taser’ we just know where to go to get it.”
It’s not just physical reps, it’s mental too.
HPD Training Director Captain Mike Izzo said one crucial tool is the OODA loop; a thought process to observe, orient, decide, act: a method taught to keep officers from getting tunnel vision.
“You’re constantly going through that process and especially during a high-stress situation. So a cop’s OODA loop, when they get in contact with somebody or get in a situation, is usually 2.5 to 3 seconds,” Capt. Izzo said.
He said the OODA loop helps push stressful distractions aside, but it can still be a major challenge to take everything in during a fast-moving scenario. They do use color-coding and verbal commands to help communicate their decisions prior to acting.
“When your adrenaline’s rushing, can you make a mistake and not know the difference of the weight of a weapon? It can happen. We would hope that with all the training and doing the drills that we do and the resiliency that it doesn’t,” Capt. Izzo said.
Izzo said his officers are public servants, and he believes they all carry the same goal of improving the community’s quality of life.
He said his advice to civilians is to comply when you are approached by an officer and to keep hands visible at all times. He said if you feel like you’re being mistreated after that, do not hesitate to call dispatch immediately following the encounter with the officer and ask for a supervisor.
Izzo said any sort of reported scenario of mistreatment during an officer encounter will be investigated immediately.