BREWER – Incidents of violence seem to be increasing daily. Even in the relatively safe borders of Maine there is disturbing news of assaults and murders of innocent civilians. The Brewer Police Department has been proactively working with local and state agencies to become better prepared to deal with such threats, and also helping to prepare members of their community and other local agencies.
It began a couple of years ago, according to Captain Chris Martin of the Brewer Police Department, when law enforcement was assisting with developing emergency plans for local schools.
“One of the things we found is that there was limited training available and sometimes we weren’t talking from the same reference point when meeting with the schools,” he said. “We wanted to get the training available [locally] as opposed to sending people out of state. We worked with Maine Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and were able to get some funding to offset the costs of bringing the training here.”
Brewer has hosted school and workplace violence trainings that took people from the community and helped them develop plans for dealing with violence in those venues, and how to prevent it. They will continue various trainings, including periodically offering trainings to members of the public and to other area agencies, with the help of Maine Emergency Management Agency and Penobscot Emergency Management.
“Our job with emergency management is to support all of our responders, including law enforcement and fire and EMS. We support towns and agencies during disasters,” said Michele Tanguay, the director of Penobscot Emergency Management. “Brewer has taken a very proactive role with training law enforcement. We have Homeland Security money available every year, and they put together a training plan and have [received] support funding from MEMA. This is allowing them to do the training law enforcement typically needs during any type of incident. They’re the front-line people that are there before anyone else.”
Having the trainings locally has many benefits for area agencies.
“I think it helps save departments money when they don’t have to send officers outside [the state]. There’s a strain when they have to send officers, [with] backfill and overtime to fill the roles,” said Tanguay.
The statewide Maine Emergency Management Agency has also been helping not only Brewer Police but other agencies get the training they need.
“We’ve been sponsoring training for them, providing tuition support for some towns that would otherwise not be able to send an officer. We work with them for their long-term training program,” said Mike Grant, the SRT Coordinator for MEMA. “This is an extension of the active shooter program, which is pretty specific. What [Brewer Police] has done is expand this so multiple agencies can come together for any region event, using the same guidance and guidelines. This has been a multi-year program and isn’t just a splash-in-the-pan, so to speak. [MEMA] also provides equipment support with a focus on training equipment.”
The equipment that MEMA helps provide only has a focus on training, no funds from MEMA can be used in the purchase of firearms.
“The benefit of this is that it’s regional,” said Grant. “I’m looking at well over a dozen communities that have taken part [in Brewer’s ongoing training program]. It certainly helps MEMA and our mission to be good stewards of the funds.”
This local training helps smaller municipalities and rural patrol receive high-level training. But it also allows the departments to train for their needs, and address concerns specific to Maine and its population. And it fits well with the mission of MEMA, which brings resources from across community platforms and creates a more comprehensive response to emergencies. And just as law enforcement has been working to help communities, members of communities can also offer their support through MEMA to help first responders through their CERT program.
“CERT is an interesting program. We can train [people] in as quickly as a weekend and they can join the community response team during an emergency to go out and do basic jobs that free up first responders. Rather than having a police officer directing traffic, it allows that officer to do something else he or she is trained to do,” said Bruce Fitzgerald, director of MEMA.”
The courses are designed to engage the participants and get them to think specifically about their own communities and organizations and come up with solutions that fit those needs.
“It really gets them rolling up their sleeves and planning,” said Martin. “It’s a really amazing course. Typically, cops train with cops and school people train with school people. When all was said and done it changed a lot of views and made us go back to the drawing board on school plans.”
The next series of trainings they held was specific to patrol supervisors, who need to make the tough calls out in the field. These trainings are referred to as “Train the Trainer” courses. This means that the officers that come to the training in Brewer leave certified to train their own officers back at their agencies.
“Brewer seems to be taking on a role and may provide a model for the future of police training in other regions,” said Garret Hubbard, the Homeland Security planner and grant program manager for MEMA.
This year Brewer is continuing the trainings, having another school and workplace violence training and supervisor training.
“Everything is building on each other, and everything has a regional application,” said Martin.
Being prepared isn’t about living your life in a state of fear and hyper-awareness; it’s making the decision to be aware that violence exists. In the School and Workplace Violence Preparation and Response course taught by Don Alwes, a National Tactical Officers Association certified instructor, students from different law enforcement agencies, local non-profits and businesses went over the hundreds of incidents of workplace violence that have happened primarily in the past 10 to 12 years.
Part of the course involved forming breakaway groups, to which Alwes gave information on a credible threat, and the students had to come up with their own plan of action.
“It’s better if they come up with the answers rather than if I tell them,” said Alwes. “The important part is starting the conversation between the stakeholder, law enforcement and people in the communities who run the facility. Once I start them thinking, when a problem pops up they will remember how to handle it.”
This is important because there is no one-size-fits-all solution for violence in the workplace. A large factory with hundreds of workers will have different needs to address than a 10-person startup business. A school will have different priorities than a restaurant. This allows workplaces to think about strategies that fit their business and their needs and come up with viable solutions. But in order to start the planning, people have to come to terms with the idea that such violence is possible – which isn’t always easy.
“The biggest thing to accept is the fact that it’s not likely, but it’s possible for this to happen where you’re at. Once you accept the fact, you will be motivated to take the measures we are suggesting,” said Alwes. “I don’t want anyone to leave here scared. … If you understand that most of these people have responsibility for the other people they work with, or students or customers – other people’s safety is part of the responsibility and they need to be thinking about it. If this is going to happen, and some kind of emergency always happens to someone in their life, [this training] will help them in any kind of emergency.”
The course on Supervising Patrol Critical Incidents was taught by Sgt. Fred Farris of Lenexa Kansas Police Department and a certified National Tactical Officer’s Association. This trains supervisors what to do in the event of a critical incident (school shooting or standoff situation).
The course is classroom-based, but the course uses real-life incidents to help train the officers.
“They are working through real incidents that have been put in a tabletop format,” said Farris. “They’re getting the scenario through real-life events from an actual hostage bank incident in Kansas. They are getting pieces of information. The supervisor in charge has a certain number of officers, and they are slowly fed information on the incident and are having to go through the same thought process of allocating resources. There is a real focus on the priority of lives and how to apply force.”
The “priority of lives” is a philosophy that has come about as the number of critical incidents has increased. First priority is given to innocent people who are actively being threatened, such as hostages. Close behind in priority are innocent bystanders that may be hurt collaterally. Third are the police officers themselves. The final priority is the suspect triggering the critical incident (such as a hostage taker). Though the subject is last on the list of priorities, officers are trained to do what they can to mitigate harm.
“We do everything we can to protect and save [the hostile subject’s] life, but ultimately it’s that person’s decision and the actions they take,” said Farris. “If you do this, we will use force. If you don’t, we will talk to you. Ultimately they make the decision.”
When a critical incident is taking place, officers may have split seconds to make decisions – often while many lives are in danger. The officers taking this training do not have special weapons and tactics (SWAT) training, but will still need to make important calls to ensure that the priorities of life are maintained and to reduce the number of people hurt or killed.
“We’re putting critical analysis behind it, making sure supervisors have the knowledge base and experience before they have an incident,” said Farris. “So when officers are faced with this on a daily basis, they will slow down when they need to slow down, based on solid principles like case law.”
Martin explained that much of this new found regimen began after a critical incident that occurred in Brewer.
“In 2014 Brewer Public Safety Director Perry Antone requested that we assess our preparedness in the event we faced a significant critical incident in the City of Brewer. Public Safety Director Antone wanted to ensure that our command staff was provided with the tools needed to make the right decisions for the right reasons based upon sound ethical and legal principles if ever faced with a critical incident. He wanted us to ensure that we internally evaluated and evolved our training processes to provide our officers with sound tactics and decision making skills providing our officers with a high level of continual training in the areas of crisis intervention, use of force, and firearms,” said Martin. “He directed us to foster collaborative partnerships in the community to assist businesses with safety and security planning and personal safety, with the intent of reducing victimization and creating harder targets that would delay or deter potential crimes.”
Brewer plans to continue the training model, as well as getting the funding to procure airsoft training guns and a firearms simulator to increase the level of training. But this emphasis on being a training center has been in the works since Brewer created the Public Safety building – making sure to include space for training and expansion from day one.
“Over the last several years, we have the philosophy of, ‘Why send one or two officers to a far-away place to receive training when we can bring the training here for the same money?’” said Deputy Chief Jason Moffitt. “We make this a yearly event in several different areas to keep our own trainers fresh.”
Moffitt explained that bringing the trainers to the area allows more officers to train, means less travel time, less overtime and backfill and more comprehensive training for more officers. These joint trainings also keep local agencies on the same page, in terms of how they respond to incidents where many agencies often work side-by-side. Knowing that they have the same training ensures the responses will be in concert.
And the trainings are not just responding to violent incidents. Brewer has also been working on the community policing, with trainings for Coffee With a Cop, a nationwide movement where officers make themselves available to chat with civilians over coffee – no agenda, no pressure, just coffee with officers.
“We’re continually raising the bar in-house with expectations on our officers. We want to increase levels of readiness,” said Moffitt.
“We’re appreciative of the community stepping up to do the right thing with emergency preparedness. It becomes a multiplier and people carry back to their communities,” said Kathleen Rusley, public information officer of MEMA.
For more information about Brewer Police and their training efforts, find them on Facebook or visit brewermaine.gov/police. For more information about Penobscot Emergency Management, visit penobscotema.squarespace.com and Maine Emergency Management visit www.maine.gov/mema – you can also find them on Facebook and Twitter.
Article prepared by Katy England from The Maine EDGE, September 15, 2015.