Commentary: Black Officer’s Perspective on Ferguson

I just left a general session of the IACP Conference in Orlando. I was surprised to see several demonstrators had gotten into the Convention Center and were shouting, “Hands up, don’t shoot.” As an African American delegate, they took notice of me. As I walked past them, they changed their chants to, “Shame-shame-shame, whose side are you on?” I remembered hearing a similar chant as I watched protestors on television yelling at black police officers.

This made me think about the often-missing element in the national discourse in the aftermath of an incident with racial overtones. It is typically the questioning of the validity of community based policing in a particular locality. In reality, the missing element is the perspective of the black police officer. An experienced police officer understands 1) the application of force; 2) the training that officer receive; and 3) the fact that injustices can happen in society.

The story will usually begin with a video clip showing a police action. Often times the clip is of the police reaction. The clip of the events leading to that reaction is withheld. The public is asked to weigh in on whether the officer’s actions were proper or some violation of civil rights.

I sometimes think of it like me watching a video of a French Chef preparing a special dish and having to comment on whether he/she used the right spice to create the right effect. I certainly might hazard an opinion, but since French culinary cooking is not my profession, I would not be expected to provide expert testimony.

Yet, when the average citizen sees a portion of a tape or even an action in person, he/she may miss some important facts such as the presence of resistive tension or the dropping back of the strong side foot into a fighting stance. Many videos do not have audio so the public does not know what commands were given by law enforcement and if they were ignored. The use of force observed many look improper or even racist to an untrained civilian.

The other side of the coin is that a black police officer is also a citizen. When he/she if off duty and driving around in his/her personal car, the officer knows which communities have a lower tolerance for traffic violations and whether a particular action may have racial overtones. His/her unique perspective of being a trained law enforcement officer and a member of the black community gives him/her insight as to the effectiveness of the black community based policing in a particular locality.

It is interesting that as we rightly challenge agencies to increase their level of diversity within their ranks, certain protest groups will publicly yell at and harass black police officers. Is this a good recruitment tool to add additional minority police officers? Who would want to take a job on the local police force and then be asked, “Whose side are you on?”

There are times when an officer gets it wrong and breaks his/her department’s policies or even the law itself. These cases must be fairly investigated and the corrective action taken. When this is done in an appropriate fashion, employee morale will remain high and community support should remain.

It is clear that our nation is much divided. Some of our communities are really suffering. Maybe it is time to try something a little different.

How about bringing-willed clergy and law enforcement together to pray for each other, that our communities might be healed? Organizations such as the Fellowship of Christian Peace Officers-USA are encouraging police officers to meet in communities around the country to begin praying for our police departments and the community. This is probably the best next step to such a difficult social issue.

Randy Brashears is retired from the Baltimore County, Md. Police and a National Board Member of the Fellowship of Christian Peace Officers.

All actions have consequences

I was in the process of typing up an upbeat end-of-year synopsis of 2014 for this week’s column when I learned of the murders of two NYPD officers in Brooklyn.

Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu were shot execution style by a coward named Ismaaiyl Brinsley.  A coward that snuck up to their patrol vehicle and executed them before they had a chance to react.  A coward who did this an act of revenge for the killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in Staten Island.  A coward who was inspired by the racial rhetoric coming from President Obama, Eric Holder, NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio, their advisor Al Sharpton and the rest of the America-Haters looking to fundamentally change our nation.

This was racial rhetoric being fed to the public by an irresponsible left wing media; racial rhetoric that led to the murders of two law enforcement officers who had absolutely nothing to do with the original incidents.

Actions do have consequences.  In this new, bizarre world of the Alinskyites, a police officer doing his job and protecting his own life becomes the criminal and an out-of-control individual trying to kill that cop becomes the victim.

Police addressing community complaints from local merchants whose businesses were being undercut by an individual selling untaxed merchandise become murderers because they enforced the law, and , as sometimes happens, things fell apart.

This new age, left-wing process of reversing reality by condoning criminality and condemning rule of law will have serious consequences down the road.

When we turn the good guys into the bad guys and the bad guys into victims, when crowds chant about killing cops, we invite this sort of behavior.

The crazies crawl out of the woodwork to heed the tongue-to-cheek call to arms by leftist elected officials who, for political gain and with total disregard to the facts, condemn the actions of good men and women trying to wrest order out of an out-of-control society.

Meanwhile, they pretend that society’s miscreants are the victims of an overbearing police state.

At some point, society’s protectors will, out of self-preservation, give up, sit back and allow the alinskyites to call the shots.  When proactive policing becomes reactive policing, when cops are reduced to cleaning up the aftermath of crime instead of preventing it, we’re going to need those firearms that the leftists are trying to take away from us.

Our police won’t be able to help us; they’ll be too busy defending themselves from the America-haters.

The White House press pool reported that our president was told about this shooting while golfing on his Hawaiian vacation.  True to form, he continued his game while one of his lackeys issued a statement saying that there was “no justification” for the killings.

Really? I wonder if he’ll wax poetic about how these two officers could have been his imaginary sons.  I wonder if his attorney general will send 50 FBI agents to New York to investigate this heinous crime.  Will White House staffers attend their funerals?

While I’m sure there will be cover statements from the America-haters condemning this despicable act, there will always be a “but” attached.

That “but” will attach some responsibility to law enforcement and call for “both sides” or “all parties” to show restraint.

I’m also sure there will be a sudden media wave of support for law enforcement in the wake of this horrific attack; support that will be too little, to late for officers Liu and Ramos.

Rules for Radicals

Not familiar with Saul Alinsky and his Alinskyites? We’ve spoken of his before.  Pick up his book, “Rules for Radicals,” and find out how a community organizer destroys a nation by fundamentally changing it.

Written By:  Mike Holz


Good Men, Women in Blue

Trying to make sense of the assassination of two police officers on the Saturday before Christmas, my mind keeps drifting back to the morning of March 13, 2010.  That’s the day a police officer saved the lives of my family.

Shortly after 5 in the morning, my wife and I heard noise outside.  I thought it was some drunks and, when we saw police lights flashing, expected it would soon be over.  Instead, at 5:15, a police officer knocked on our door and told my wife that the hotel next door was engulfed in flames.  As the shock set in, the officer calmly but firmly told her that we needed to get dressed and get ready to evacuate.  He then went on to the next home.

Just 45 minutes later, despite the amazing efforts of volunteer firefighters, our house was gone.  And when I say gone, I mean completely.  Watching it burn seemed like the cartoon image of termites devouring a house from back to front.  The appliances melted.  There was nothing left.  Everything physical that we had accumulated through more than 20 years of marriage was reduced to ashes.

The blaze took out a bed-and-breakfast, a hotel and six houses.  More than 200 firefighters worked tirelessly in a chilly nor’easter to contain the damage.

A local Christian organization opened its doors; the Red Cross set up shop; and our community grieved.  The outpouring of support was unbelievable.  I can’t tell you how many people offered us clothes or food or a place to stay.  Some belonged to our church.  Other’s did not.  Some I had never before met.  It got to be so much that we had to remind everybody we were OK; people in Haiti, who had just suffered a terrible earthquake, needed help more than we did.

The whole community came together to help us get through something  I hope you never have to experience.  But none of it would have been possible without the quick and effective response of our local police officers.

They didn’t leap through flames or dodge bullets like the TV cops, but because of their effort on that March morning, not a single person was killed or injured by the fire.

A few weeks later, our town held a community service of thanksgiving.  My wife and I thanked the police officer who had saved our lives, and had our picture taken with him.  Pictures of the fire taken 20 minutes after he arrived showed our bed in flames.  it is horrifying to contemplate.

But our hero was embarrassed by the attention.  He said he was just doing his job.

It didn’t matter to him or us at the time, but in today’s racially charged police debate, it seems worth noting that the officer is black and we are white.

Than man is my image of the 780,0000 men and women in blue who make our lives better every day by “just doing their job.”  They aren’t saints, and they do make mistakes.  We all do.

But day in and day out, America’s police officers prove again and again that they are good people putting themselves at risk in a very difficult job.

Written By: Scott Rasmussen



Armored Vehicles For a New World of Threats




While most agree there is no feasible way of totally securing public safety in a free and open society, there is not more than ever a desire to provide law enforcement agencies with the latest and most effective safety procedures and equipment.  At the top of the list of “must-haves” is the tactical armored vehicle like the BearCat, made by Pittsfield, Mass.-based Lenco Industries, Inc.

More than a dozen BearCats were deployed by multiple state, local, and regional agencies at the Boston Marathon scene, including one that took part in the final dramatic scene in which the BearCat climbed a 24-inch retaining wall and then used a hydraulic battering ram on the vehicle to remove the tarp covering the boat in which the suspect had been hiding.

During the bombing incident, the armored vehicles served multiple purposes, from overwatch and cover during the door-to-door search, to transporting large numbers of officers.  The vehicles’ features and interoperability made them especially useful in the densely populated multi-agency scene manned by different groups and equipment.  At numerous debriefings and discussions after the incident, the desirability of having tactical armored vehicles available are stressed time and again, and their features called absolutely essential to today’s law enforcement.

Tactical armored vehicles provide hard cover and fast and efficient officer transportation.  Used over the last decade for SWAT operations, including executing search warrants on high-risk individuals, drug raids, barricaded gunmen callouts, and hostage rescue, the BearCat provides a much greater level of protection than tactical shields and offers a very large area of hard cover.  These features are a big part of the reason they were used so successfully at the Boston marathon incident.

For example, the Massachusetts State Police was called in after the initial shooting in Watertown, arriving at 3a.m.  Trooper John Suyemoto explained that the State Police used one of its three BearCats as its base of operations during the daylong area search around the vehicle abandoned by the fleeing suspect.  The BearCat also served as the delivery platform to investigates a series of civilian call-ins about people matching the suspect’s description.

“We spent the day responding to more than 10 different calls around Watertown and Cambridge,”  Trooper Suyemoto said.  “We cleared out large office buildings and even responded to a report of another suicide bomber.  The truck was helpful for handling these types of situations, where we had incomplete or incorrect information that must be investigated before it can be discounted.  The BearCat allowed us to observe situations in general safety inside the truck.”

The BearCat was also used as part of the 27-person Nashua, N.H. Police Department’s Special Reaction Team, which was called in to assist with a door-to-door search in the Watertown mall area.  Linking up with the 50-person North Easter Massachusetts law Enforcement Council (NEMLEC) SWAT team, Sergeant Joseph Fay’s team provided backup, along with units from other nearby County agencies.  The area was broken up into quadrants and zones and each team was assigned certain areas to clear.

Sergeant Fay explained that the BearCat was invaluable during the incident, providing better hard cover than shields in the event they had to engage with a suspect.  It was also excellent for transporting large numbers of SWAT officers. “Some were loaded on the outside rails, which let us quickly transport large numbers to location and deploy quickly.”

The daylong search for suspects over an entire city block area was an unusual callout because it involved such a large geographical area, and Fay noted how the availability of the BearCat armored vehicles allowed a key change in tactics.  “During the mission, we pushed the BearCat down the center to provide overwatch  and cover while officers went door to door.”

He explained that in a mobile operation, you are constantly moving and must provide cover for the exposed team members.  There is no other way to do that without a vehicle, because the operation constantly changes location.  In a more traditional operation, snippers and marksmen provide that kind of cover, but in this situation the event was moving, so officers lost the ability to deploy a sniper in a single area.

“Looking back on the situation, I feel that the presence of the BearCat was the only way to address this rolling situation.  It is the only piece of equipment that can provide such a large area of hard cover,” Fay said.  He noted that the vehicle did what it was supposed to, offering shooting ports, with turrets providing overwatch.  In addition, the hydraulic ramming arm shielded the team, allowing officers to work the mechanical ram from behind cover to avoid injury.

According to State Trooper Suyemoto, the BearCat’s battering ram played a crucial role in the successful end to the operation.  He explained that in the late afternoon, shortly after authorities allowed people to move around the area, a homeowner discovered that his boat had been compromised.  He called 9-1-1 and the police deployed to that residence.

Trooper Suyemoto picked up the story.  “We were at the command post on Arsenal Street and drove over, getting down in the area of the truck’s maneuverable G3 platform.  Then, upon confirmation by a helicopter with thermal imaging that the subject was inside the boat, we mounted the 15-foot hydraulic ram arm on the front of the truck; thankfully, mounting the arm is a relatively quick and easy operation.  We drove the truck up to the boat, which was difficult because we had to mount a 24-inch-high stone wall.  Luckily, the BearCat was up to the task.  It took a couple of attempts, but we reached the top of the wall and drove up the lawn.

We got the truck positioned properly, and proceeded to remove the tarp covering the boat by moving the arm back and forth down the length of the boat to punch holes in the shrink wrap.  We could then remove it and see inside.  I can tell you that it felt very good to be in a safe position within that armored car.  There is very little someone armed with a regular rifle or handgun could do to us with the cover provided by the BearCat.”

Tactical armored vehicles are typically built on heavy duty commercial truck chassis, fitted with NIJ IV rifle-resistant armor and a four-wheel drive system.  They carry up to 12 people.  Armor may vary among vehicles, but the BearCat is always built with Mil-Spec steel armor plate certified to defeat multi-hit attacks from 7.62 AP/.50 Cal BMG rounds.  Ceilings and floors provide enhanced blast and fragmentation protection and ballistic glass windows also offer multi-hit defeat.

The vehicles come in two- and four-door variants; IED blast seats are also available.  They feature a 360-degree rotating zero-gravity roof hatch and an optional armored cupola for added ballistic protection.  Dual rear-mounted air conditioning  and heat ensures crew comfort, and a custom center console and computer equipment designed to fleet and central command specifications guarantee interoperability.  Kevlar ballistic skip round shields protect downed personnel during officer rescue missions.  The ballistic blankets can also be used as stretchers.

Scores of other options can be used to tailor the vehicle to particular needs, including a front and rear strobe, siren/PA system, backup camera, on-board contained air, and long-range acoustic device (LRAD) for crowd control.  According to Massachusetts State Trooper Suyemoto, “The LRAD and the thermal camera with pan and zoom capability mounted over the driver’s head were absolutely invaluable features.  We spent the day going on calls and the LRAD and camera system made an extremely safe platform in which to work, especially considering the evolving, fluid situation.”

Mission-specific equipment is available for SWAT, medical evacuation, bomb technicians, anti-riot, and dignitary and VIP transportation.  The newest options, designed especially for barricaded gunmen callouts, include the hydraulic RAM bar that extends 17 feet and elevates 12 feet.  As mentioned the hydraulic ramming arm was definitely an instrumental piece of equipment at the Boston marathon incident.  Another newer option, the Lenco gas injector unit (GIU) can be mounted at the end of the arm; chemical munitions can be deployed through a perforated spike controlled by a switch on the vehicle’s center console at a safe distance from the suspect.

Armored vehicles are an equipment extension for ballistic shields used for entries into homes and for officer protection.  “We want the least amount of damage possible to people,” said an officer from the Boston Police Department’s mobile operations patrol (MOP), who asked not to be identified.  “Tactical armored vehicles like the BearCat are made to withstand small arms fire and small explosives to get wounded officers or civilians out of an area safely.”

The officer explained that the BPD deployed two armored vehicles during the incident.  Armored vehicles like the BearCat protect access and egress of officers who go in as part of rescue parties, or allow officers to safely enter a scene–delivering the team safely to and from a location is one of their key missions.  In Boston, the BearCat is typically used for securing an area, or where there are unknowns.  The armored vehicle provides cover and concealment from armed felons and is most often used for warrant services.

Aside from the high-visibility Boston Marathon bombing and its aftermath, armored vehicles have already won an important part in many law enforcement agency arsenals.  Take the case of Pittsfield, Mass. where the armored vehicle has quickly become a part of the tactics used in all city pre-planned or other high-risk drug operations, barricaded subject calls, and in support of protective details.

According to Michael Wynn, Pittsfield Police Chief, the city frequently puts the armored vehicles in close proximity to the venue as a mobile bunker.  This means, instead of using evacuate and lock down, and then move out under cover.  They may park the vehicle and put a tent over it to conceal it and then use it if necessary.

“The BearCat is a quiet as a truck, and we use it almost any time we go on a raid.  We would rather have it and not need it than have to call back for it,” Wynn said.  “We can drive into a hot zone and we can conduct an officer rescue and it adds a whole new dimension when the team can approach a target.”

The team’s capabilities have been greatly increased by the ability to ram a door and introduce gas without gunfire.  “Also, you can’t underestimate the ‘Wow’ factor–recently we simply had to drive up to a suspect’s front lawn and announce that he was surrounded.  Minimizing the risk to the team by not having to execute cannot be overstated.”

Many of the officers present at the Boston Marathon scene focused on the importance of team training on the use and limitations of armored vehicles prior to putting the vehicles in service.  In addition, they emphasized that training should incorporate EMS and EODs (explosive ordnance divisions) so that all parties can work together.  ” Everyone has to be able to work as a team,” the BPD officer said.  “Each component is a building block and each officer must know what these vehicles can and cannot do and how they can and cannot be used.”

For example, BPD incorporated training on tactical armored vehicles during Urban Shield Boston, a continuous 24-hour exercise, during which first responders were deployed to and rotated through various training scenarios.  This is the largest exercise ever conducted in Boston, involving more than 600 emergency responders from 50 agencies.

In the opinion of the BPD officer, other than a full armored vehicle like a tank (which most law enforcement officials do not think would be accepted in most U.S. cities), a tactical armored vehicle like the BearCat will provide law enforcement with the greatest help to get in and solve a problem.  “In my view, it is better safe than sorry.  We need a vehicle like this for aiding and assisting officers.  They are not tanks and are not going to block explosions of solve all the problems, but they are a huge help for aiding and assisting officers on the scene.”

Armored rescue vehicles provide a huge measure of peace of mind for officers who arrive on scene and may not know exactly what they are getting into.  They can aid and assist getting officers in and out, getting wounded parties in and out, or providing cover.  They certainly proved their worth in one of the nation’s most serious terrorist incidents in recent memory, and are considered as essential piece of equipment to own by most law enforcement agencies around the U.S.

State Trooper Suyemoto summed it up this way:  ” The BearCat did everything we asked it to do, including driving up and over a wall, and it performed very well.  We pretty much used every piece of gear we got with it except the gas injector.  It provided a high level of safety to our guys and without it our next step would have been removing the shrink wrap on the boat by hand.  Having an armored car made that potentially dangerous situation much safer.  We don’t often get equipment that does what we want it to do, so when we do, we are happy to sing its praises.”



Building Gallery Now Available

The Berkeley County Sheriff’s Department is pleased to announce the addition of the Building Gallery which highlights the collective effort Berkeley County applied to refurbishing the old Martins Grocery Market into a spacious home for the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Department. It is located under our “About the Department” main menu link and here.

Celebrating the Success of 40 years of Neighborhood Watch

By Robbi Woodson, USAon Watch, National Neighborhood Watch

     The National Sheriff’s Association has supported local law enforcement in their efforts to build and encourage local community participation through Neighborhood Watch for the last 40 years.  Using the pillars of observation and reporting groups throughout America, Neighborhood Watch has reduced crime and built stronger neighborhoods.  Currently, more than 25,000 watch groups are active with greater than a million volunteers covering the U.S. according to our USA on Watch database.  The key to the success of Neighborhood Watch is the continued willingness of neighbors to help each other build a better community.

In 2002, NSA partnered with the U.S. Department of Justice to expand the program to incorporate terrorism awareness, emergency preparedness, and all hazards traiing into the mission.  An expanded mission gave way to an expanded title for the national program, USAonWatch-National Neighborhood Watch Program.  Time-tested practices such as “eyes-and-ears” training and target-hardening techniques continue to be at the core of the program.  As watch groups continue to grow, the roles of citizens have become more multifaceted and tailored to local needs.

The basic principles behind the Neighborhood Watch program have been ingrained in much of society for hundreds of years. Americans have a need and willingness to give back to their community, what better way than to start where they live.  “Often groups and volunteers are spurred to action as a direct result of the impact crime had on their own sense of safety” according to Chris Tutko, Director of USAonWatch Neighborhood Watch.  He went on to say “it is important to people that they have a sense of safety in their homes and neighborhoods which is why groups are started.”  The program empowers citizens to develop vital community relations when crime or natural disaster has impacted a neighborhood, which is why more than 5,000 local law enforcement agencies actively support the program.

Building on the successes demonstrated by Neighborhood Watch groups, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom and Germany are just a few of the countries with active programs like the U.S.  As a direct result of the programs wide reach and notability, the U.S. Military has worked hard to incorporate the idea of Neighborhood Watch in the community outreach efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Despite changes in society over the past 40 years, Neighborhood Watch-USAonWatch is one concept that has remained strong throughout the years.  The longevity of Neighborhood Watch is attributed to the fact that the program is flexible to suit the needs of the community, and can be adapted to any environment (e.g., Cab Watch, Campus Watch, Ranch Watch, and Marina Watch).

Every week in local newspapers across they country there is a report how a burglary or robbery suspect has been caught as a result of important tips provided by watch volunteers.  How that information is communicated has changed a great deal over the last 40 years.  Not to mention, communities have grown along with the roles and responsibilities of law enforcement.  Now, agencies are communicating more and more with the communities they serve via Facebook and Twitter.  Instant pictures are taken via Smart phones when something suspicious is seen.  Reports of suspicious activities can now be made via agency apps that are easily downloaded.  Totally gone are the days of phone trees to communicate with your volunteers.  However, the online Neighborhood Watch community has been born and continues to develop each day.  The role of the National program is to provide you with useful and helpful information to grow that communication.  Currently, offers Facebook, Twitter and Google+ pages to connect groups with each other and provide vital crime prevention information.

While the online community has grown and continues to grow, NSA creates content and resources to assist Sheriff’s Offices and Police Departments.  Providing important in-person training in partnership with the Bureau of Justice Assistance via NSA’s Neighborhood Watch Toolkit has allowed us to train more than 3,500 officers/deputies and more than 1,500 community leaders over the last five years.  The Neighborhood Watch Toolkit Training includes topics such as pandemic flu, older adult safety, bullying, foreclosure and PACT360.  While in-person trainings are critical to build important networking connections between deputies and officers, the national program is leveraging current social media to open up our training materials to additional agencies and watch leaders. Utilizing the USAonWatch webinar series started this past January, important program topics and issues are being presented in a timely manner.  For those who are unable to attend the webinars, as of June, content is recorded and uploaded to the USAonWatch YouTube Channel.

Another exciting addition to the national program was the launch of the USAonWatch Academy Watch in May.  What is Academy Watch?  It is an on-demand self-paced training series of six important topics to a Neighborhood Watch program.  Topics cover everything from an overview of the program to strategic planning.  The self-paced training materials have been directly taken from the USAonWatch Toolkit and are provided online in both English and Spanish.


Technology Tools Help Drive Higher Accuracy of Crash Scene Documentation

By Bob Galvin, RS Galvin & Associates

For Truly effective documentation of crash and crime scenes, investigators in sheriff’s offices need not only solid forensic training and skills, but powerful technology, too.  At the core of investigating and processing these scenes is careful documentation since it represents a permanent written record that will show scene conditions and evidence.  Ultimately, once a scene is measured, a detailed 2D or 3D diagram is created that must withstand scrutiny in the courtroom.

As sheriff’s office still wrestle with tighter budgets, obtaining the most current technology is difficult. In many cases, the total station remains the standard measuring tool that is highly reliable and usually affordable, and which can be used with low cost data collection software and scene diagramming programs.  Other measuring methods such as laser systems, laser scanners, and photgrammetry also are solid documentation tools, yet the total station is predominantly used since it can take fast and very precise ground measurements.

Total Stations Used With Aerial Mapping

     The Nye County, Nevada, Sheriff’s Office is one of the first in the state to pursue technology for its mostly crash investigations.  Leading this effort is Sheriff Tony DeMeo, who over-sees 70 deputies covering his office’s sprawling northern and southern commands of Nevada.  He uses two Sokkia SET550RX total stations, and the Crash Zone and Crime Zone diagramming software from The CAD Zone, Inc., which enables him to produce two and three dimensional diagrams.  Sheriff DeMeo was able to purchase his two total stations, which he personally specified after learning Sokkia was frequently used brand in crash investigations, and the diagramming software with PETT funds or Payments Equal to Taxes paid to Nye County for the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository Project.

The Sokkia SET550RX total stations were chosen for several valuable capabilities: enhanced environmental durability, including extreme heat and cold, the finest powder dust, and the hardest driving rain; measurement range of 1,310 feet; display of crash scene measurement results within 1.7 to 4.2 seconds under any circumstance; and a narrow red EDM (electronic distance meter) beam for pinpoint reflectorless measurement.

The total stations and drawing software are used mostly for serious injury and fatal accidents.  Because of the severity and scope of these scenes, Sheriff DeMeo often will overlay mapped scenes on top of aerial images of them provided by Google Earth. “We do this often because it is evidence that will be used in court,” the sheriff said.  “And people in court can see exactly where an accident occured.”  Another benefit is that layers of the scene can be created with The Crash Zone software and pulled out for observation and analysis as needed.  The layers show specific sections or details of a crash scene.

Huge Time Savings

     When Nye County Sheriff’s Office investigators map a crash scene, the total stations plot evidence points as they are captured.  “This allows investigators to see immediatley if a scene was accurately plotted,” Sheriff DeMeo said.

By using the total stations, Sheriff DeMeo estimates scenes are documented 60 to 70 percent faster compared to, say, using a steel tape measure or measuring wheel.  And, he adds, “We’re giving the judge and jury a more realistic portrait of the scene than we have in the past, and, with aerial photo overlays of a scene, exactly where an event happened.”

According to Sgt. Mark Kimsey of the Traffic Homicide Division  of Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the public is demanding more intensive crash investigations to learn why the rate of crashes is rising, how they occur, and out of concern for increased road safety.  Sgt. Kimsey works with one other sergeant and two investigators investigating crashes.  They mapped 100 crashes in 2011, 18 of which involved fatalities.

Older Total Stations Still Going Strong

     In this tight-money economy, aging technology tools oftentimes must continue handling the rising number of crash scene investigations.  Which is why Sgt. Kimsey still uses two older Topcon total stations, one ten-years old and the other total station five years-old, and equipped with prism poles.  The total stations, used roughly 100 times a year and still going strong, are married with The CAD Zone, Inc.’s Pocket Zone  data collection software.  The Pocket Zone serves as both a data collector and a true CAD program.  It connects to many total stations and laser measurement systems, which allows the user to accurately record all 3D point and line data shot at the scene.  “We wanted to be able to diagram a crash right at the scene,” explains Sgt. Kimsey, “and then shoot our points from a total station right into The Pocket Zone, which will put it straight into our desktop diagramming program.”

As with Sheriff DeMeo, Sgt. Kimsey considers using a total station a highly reliable method for scene documentation.  “It’s extremely rugged,” he said.  “We’ve shot in all kinds of weather-below freezing, 100 degrees, pouring rain, snow and ice, and never had a problem collecting our data.”

Identifying Most Recent Evidence is Focus

     Determining what evidence is relevant at a crash scene is crucial to accurate documentation.  That’s the opinion of Sgt. Paul Wade, Supervisor of the Major Accident Reconstruction Team with the Orange County, California, Sheriff’s Office.  Mapping crashes at intersections can be especially tricky; due to prior accidents, there can be substantial evidence in the street that was brought there by other vehicles at other times.  “Some of the difficulty you have when you go out there is trying to identify what (evidence) exactly is involved in a crash,” Sgt. Wade said.  “We take photgraphs of the scene, and all of these other gouges and skid marks will show up.  This is when your experience kicks in, looking at the items and determining what evidence is involved in the scene and what is not.”

Preserving Scene Evidence, Moving Traffic Are Challenges

     Preserving scene evidence during a crash investigation is another challenge Sgt. Wade confronts.  For one scene he was investigating, the fire department was trying to extricate a person from a car.  Recalls Sgt. Wade: “We’re doing our work, then we hear machines and observe them (firefighters) tearing our car apart for practice.  That was our evidence?” Still another problem can be controlling moving traffic at a crash scene.  Sometimes, cars may actually enter the crash scene itself as an investigation is in progress.  “I’ve had cars coming into the scene at 50 MPH, and we’ve had tow truck drivers not paying attention and almost running over our deceased body,” Sgt. Wade reveals.

‘Reflectorless’ Mode Ideal For Short Distances

     Because crash scenes can occur during the day or night, total stations are equipped to handle both situations.  Most total stations are offered in either reflector mode, a requiring use of a prism, or reflectorless mode, which allows for measurements to objects or points without having to place a prism at those points.  Some total stations come equipped with both modes.  “The reflectorless total station is great at night,” Sgt. Wade said.  “The aiming red dot on the total station will precisely hit the target it is aimed at.”  The operator sets the total station’s target height and then aims it at the desired evidence point, which, for example, could be a tire mark.  By pressing a button on the total station’s data collector, the evidence point is captured, and the total station has measured the slope distance.  And, this has been accomplished without a prism and someone standing over it.  “The red aiming dot helps because it’s hard to see the prism looking through a total station,” Sgt. Wade explains.  Likewise, he adds, “For longer scenes, you’re going to shoot reflector mode, but, again, the red aiming dot helps because it’s hard to see the prism looking through a total station.  So, you leave the total station in the regular mode and you activate the red aiming light and you’ll see the red light refracted back to you from the prism,” Sgt. Wade said.

Since most crash scenes have relatively short distances, they can be shot with a total station in reflectorless mode.  This will speed up scene measuring dramatically compared to using manual methods.  Sgt. Wade reports that by shooting his crash scenes reflectorless, “We’re getting a scene mapped in one quarter of the time.”

Identifying Road Profiles Easier

     Brad Booth, Senior Reconstructionist with Precision Mapping and Reconstruction in Rapids City, South Dakota, would agree with Sgt. Wade that correct identification and accurate capture of scene evidence is paramount in any investigation.  Which is why the total station has become such a pivotal technology.  “With the introduction of total stations, we’re able to precisely map the evidence we identify as well as the road designs or profiles and topography of the road,” Booth, a former traffic investigator with the South Dakota Police Department, said. For Example, Booth points out that is South Dakota there is typically a three percent crown in the center of the road, and that by working with 3D crash mapping and diagramming  “we can actually see that (crown) now when we go out and map.”  This also means more scene evidence points must be captured, which a total station can easily and quickly accomplish. “Once we do that, we can accurately place vehicles over the evidence, and we can also do animatin,” Booth said.

Using current mapping technology is particulary important for Booth as he notes that crashes investigated in Rapids City overall are trending upward.  In 2011, for example, there were 2,539 reportable accidents.  Most crash scenes that Booth investigates are in rural areas, so they measure 100o feet or longer.  With such huge scenes, collecting evidence points quickly is a priorit.  “With a total station, you can shoot to a prism in about three seconds.  And I’m taking 400 to 500 measurements regularly per scene. I’ve taken as many as 1000 measurements at a crash scene,” Booth added.

Fatal Crash Underscores Total Station’s Value

     While tape measures still are used today as the only tool or in conjunction with other equipment, their accuracy cannot match that of a total station.  Booth knows because one crash scnen he handled showed how critical measurement accuracy is.  The incident involved a van with Girl Scouts whose driver was turning a corner on a road too fast.  The driver was forced to overcorrect the van, causing it to veer into the opposing lane and slam head-on into another vehicle, instantly killing two of the Girl Scouts.  Booth, a state trooper at the time. had used a tape measure to map the scene which was just over 700 feet, and so had to move the tape measure twice to complete measurements.  He then produced a hand-drawn diagram.  Meanwhile, the South Dakota Department of Transportation also mapped the scene, although using a total station, and had delivered its completed diagram to Booth by the time he got to his office the next morning,  Upon viewing the diagram, said Booth, “I was off with my measurements by over a foot.  I decided at that moment it was time we jumped onto total station technology.”

‘Seamless Integration’ of Scene Details Aided By Suite of Tools

     By now, it’s clear to see that crash scene mapping is a combination of investigative training, skills, and experience along with reliable, precision oriented equipment.  Typically, the equipment includes a total station, data collector (in many total station models a data collector is built in), data collection software, and a diagramming software program.  These tools allow aseamless integrationof evidence capture, plotting of evidence points, and creation of a final scaled diagram that may be used for courtroom presentation.  Booth uses a Leica total station, although he is tansitioning to a Sokkia 50R reflectorless total station, as well as a handheld Pocket PC, TDS Recon data collector, MapScenes Evidence Recorder software, and ARAS 360 crash diagramming software.  Contributing strongly to the seamless integration of scene documentation, Booth says, is the MapScene Evidence Recorder.  This is due to the software’s ability to allow its user to visually verify ongoing field evidence collection-on the spot-high-definition graphics, intuitive coordinates setup, and automatic saving of each measurement to ensure data security.  Data security is crucial when documenting crash scenes.  Says Booth:  “The Evidence Recorder is very intuitive and does such a good job of maintaining integrity of data we shoot.  You can change one shot and  change codes.”  However, Booth notes, “When we change codes the software flags this.”

Robotic Total Stations Boost Efficiency, Accuracy, Reduce Errors

     Dave Forystek, formerly a sergeant with The Flint, Michigan, Police Department’s Traffic Division, actually spent much of his time investigating and mapping crime scenes.  To do so, he used a Sokkia SRX5 fully robotic, single-operator total station with Archer Field PC, Mapscenes Evidence Recorder data collection software, and MapScenes Forensic CAD software.  Sokkia is one of only a handful of total station makers who offer robotic total stations.  The robotic station adds automatic tracking and radio communication to a radio and data collector at the “target” or pole.  Consequently, no person is required at the instrument-only at the target-reducing the need for a second operator.  Robotic total stations also are servo-motor-driven, which means they are paired with some typed of encoder to provide position/speed feedback.  They measure both in the X-Y (horizontal) plane and the Z (elevation) axis.  With these capabilities, robotic total stations search for, then lock onto the target and then automatically follow it as the investigator moves it around a crime scene.  While the total station tracks the target, it is constantly updating the data collector.

According to Sgt. Forystek, “It’s the combination of speed and accuracy and the amount of evidence you can gather” that makes the robotic total station so valuable.  For example, he explains, if an investigator enters a 3000-4000 square-foot nighclub to map it using a tape measure, he will need to walk around it many times, and probably need to traverse around some evidence.  “Using a robotic total station in an interior scnen like this, I can stand in one location and shoot just about everything I need,” Sgt. Forystek adds.

More Measurements in Less Time a Chief Benefit

     Although there are today many options for crash scene measuring, the total station undoubtedly will remain the most ubiquitous and often used documentation tool.  And for good reason given its many benefits:

  • The ability to take a large number of measurements in a short amount of time.
  • Reduced time spent at the scene means partially or fully closed roads can be re-opened more quickly, which raises safety for both investigators on scene and waiting motorists.
  • By combining the total station with software needed to process collected data points, a simple diagram can be created at the scene within minutes and checked for any missed points before leaving.

A scaled diagram created with data first accurately shot with a total station and that has been secured via collection software allows for careful analysis of scene events and details.


What Is the Legal Meaning of a Sheriff’s Oath of Office?

By Sheriff Larry Amerson, President, National Sheriffs’ Association, Sheriff Greg Champagne, Chairman, NSA Legal Affairs Committee (Rick Hodsdon, Esq. and Richard Weintraub, NSA General Counsel Contributed Research to this Article)

     Lately, there has been much discussion about the “Oath of Office” taken by any elected sheriff and the legal significance of that oath of office.  This article and its attachments provide the history of the oath of office,  the legal definition(s) and discusses the factual reality whether an oath of office taken by an elected sheriff confers or imposes special powers, responsibilities or duties on the Office of Sheriff.  Moreover, there have been unsubstantiated claims made that elected sheriffs who are “Constitutional officers” have greater powers, duties and responsibilities when compared to other elected governmental officers.  While it is true that the elected Office/Department of Sheriff is granted unique law enforcement and public safety duties and responsibilities (i.e. arresting, imprisoning, taking individuals into custody, etc.) which set an Office/Department of Sheriff apart from other elected state and local officers, the Office/Department of Sheriff is bound by judicial review and by the laws of each state as are other elected governmental officers.  As a result, the judicial branch of government is responsible in interpreting the law when conflicts arise between individual citizens and federal, state and local governmental entities in enforcing the law.

     A national survey undertaken by the National Sheriff’s Association (“Association”) reviewed the current legal status of our nations over 3,000 elected Offices of Sheriff.  The research data shows that only 3 states, Alaska, Hawaii and Connecticut, do not have the position of Office/Department of Sheriff.  The other 47 states do have an Office of Sheriff, which leads to the question in those 47 states whether or not the Office of Sheriff is deemed to be a “constitutional office” created under individual state constitutions.

     The data shows that in 33 states of the Office of Sheriff is explicitly named in the state constitution.  In 13 states the Office of Sheriff is not created by the state constitution but is a created by state statutes.  This data demonstrates that the Office of Sheriff is a “constitutional officer,”  in the majority of states;  however, in a number of state jurisdictions, particularly states in the Midwest section of our nation, this is not the case.

     When the question is raised as to the specific “Oath of Office of Sheriff” taken in each of the 47 states that have traditional Offices/Departments of Sheriff, our Association’s research of individual state constitutions and state statues reveals that the “oath of office” taken by an elected sheriff in 43 states is the same oath used by all other state and local public officials, including other members of the executive, judicial and legislative branches of government.  In short, an individual sheriff’s “oath of office” does not contain any additional or unique language conferring special duties, powers or responsibilities on any Office of Sheriff.  As result, an individual sheriff’s oath of office is the same or identical oath of office conferred on and taken by all of these other public local, county and state officials.

     While there is no doubt that in many states the Office of Sheriff is deemed to be the chief county law enforcement official with significant and special powers and duties, these additional powers and duties do not derive from the oath of office taken by any individual sheriff.

     The office of the elected sheriff is a time honored tradition that our nation;s sheriffs diligently protect as the Office of Sheriff represents direct democracy through the right of our citizens to choose their local chief law enforcement officer.  Our nation’s sheriffs protect their citizens’ individual rights through the elected Office of Sheriff.  However, individual sheriffs should not fall into the mythology that any “oath of office”  taken by the man or woman who fills the position of sheriff conveys upon that individual any extraordinary powers or duties that are not otherwise set out under the constitutions and laws of the respective states.  Furthermore, a sheriff should always perform his or her duties in accordance with the Constitution of the United States as interpreted by the United States Supreme Court.


New fire hall has open house

HEDGESVILLE – Folks are gearing up for Saturday’s official grand opening ceremony of the new Hedgesville Volunteer Fire Station at 4217 Hedgesville Road.

The event is set for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and it will be open to the public. County and state officials, including U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., are expected to attend.

Providing live music will be the Back Creek Valley Boys, and light refreshments will be available.

The dedication ceremony will take place between 11:15 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Around noon, a medevac helicopter will land at the station in order to demonstrate to the community just how the emergency chopper process works.

“This is a big deal, it’s a celebration for us,” said fire department member T.R. Keller. “We’ve gone to a new, modern fire station that’s better equipped, and we have more room than we had before.”

The former facility, built in 1956, could actually fit inside the new 21,600-square-foot station.

Though initial talks of the project began in the 1980s, active steps toward completion didn’t begin until a few years ago. The bulk of the construction took place in 2008 and 2009.

The $3 million project was funded primarily by a loan taken out by the Berkeley County Fire Board.

“It’s exciting because it’s our new home, and it will benefit the community,” Keller said. “Once we have the upstairs done, it’s going to be used as a shelter in case of a disaster like a blizzard or a power outage. We have a backup generator so we’ll have power when no one else does.”

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