Prepping for potential problems

Published 8:10 am Sunday, March 10, 2013

It was high activity at the Washington Parish jail in Franklinton Thursday, and before it was over a couple of law enforcement officers had sustained injuries. Fortunately, they were minor.

There was no general inmate uprising or even an unruly individual. But the training session that did take place was designed to keep jailers, inmates and others safe, and it was realistic.

The sheriff’s office-sponsored Cell Entry Training was conducted by Rayburn Correctional Center Majors Thomas Mitchell and Darryl Mizell and attended by a total of 30 jailers, sheriff’s deputies and Franklinton police officers. The deputies and police were included because they serve as the primary backup in the event of a disturbance at the jail.

The session Thursday was one component of an overall effort by Warden Robert McDaniel to provide training for his staff, according to the Washington Parish Sheriff’s Office. Additional training has been provided by RCC through regularly scheduled academies at the prison.

“When I took this job last July, I realized that jail officer training had been neglected for years,” McDaniel said. “With the support of Sheriff (Randy) Seal, we have worked hard to provide training for all of our jail staff. Several training sessions have been conducted and more are planned for the future.”

Thursday’s session focused on proper techniques for removing a resistant and defiant inmate from a cell.

If an inmate refuses a direct order to step out of his or her cell, the cell entry procedure is implemented to remove the inmate.

According to the training, proper techniques, coupled with the use of body armor and an electronic shield, are important at any time a use of force is required to remove an inmate from a cell.

During the training, WPSO Jail Lt. Jim Miller suited up in protective armor and acted the part of a resistant inmate. In turn, other officers donned body armor and formed cell entry teams, each led by an officer with an electronic shield.

WPSO Chief Deputy Mike Haley explained that an electronic shield is a clear concave shield with electronic contacts on its face.

“The officer is able to use the shield to pin the inmate against the wall,” he said. “If the inmate is resisting violently or has a weapon, the officer can activate the electronic component and shock the inmate for not more than five seconds. The shock helps to deter the inmate from further aggression. It is an effective tool that is widely used in corrections throughout the country.

“Often, the presence of the shield itself will calm an inmate. The officer can hold the shield in front of him or her and activate the electronic component so the inmate can see ‘sparks’ on the face of the shield. This gives the inmate a good idea of what he or she might encounter if the shield is activated against their body.”

On Thursday, alternating teams of law enforcement officers in helmets and other protective gear lined up behind an electronic shield and headed in to face Miller, who seemed to relish his role, which proved both good for the training and a little painful.

Before the end of the day, one incoming officer suffered a cut to his arm, and Miller received a “large strawberry,” or brush burn on the side of his head when he was taken to the floor by an entry team. Both officers were treated at the scene by the jail nurse.

And the pain didn’t end there. Each participating officer was “shocked” by the electronic shield in order to experience how it feels for an inmate who resists to the point where use of force is necessary, according to the WPSO.

Haley, who was present during the training session, said the U.S. Supreme Court allows use of force for self-defense, to defend another person or property, to prevent a crime and to enforce jail rules and regulations.

“Inmates in the Washington Parish Jail can be assured that our officers are trained in the proper use of force, and that appropriate force will be utilized if necessary,” he said. “Force is always a last resort to be utilized against a non-compliant inmate, but we will use force if an inmate fails to comply with a directive.”

An inmate’s behavior dictates the amount and type of force that might be used against him or her, Haley said.

“If an inmate wants to avoid the use of force, all he or she has to do is follow the rules and comply,” he said. “It’s that simple.”

Haley said that “so far” the WPSO has not had to use force to remove an inmate from a cell.

“The training is a pro-active move to equip our officers ‘just in case’,” he said. “While we are not hesitant to use force if necessary, we will use it in a proper manner as guided by federal courts in various decisions.

“Jail officials have a duty under the law to protect inmates. This includes protection from self, from other inmates and from staff. It is important that our staff be properly trained in the event they must use force against an inmate or inmates. Proper training and proper equipment enable jail officers to accomplish an objective while at the same time lessening the possibility of injury either to officers or to themselves.”

Seal said it is vital for jailers to be prepared, and that professional training is essential for any law enforcement agency.

“Training is preparation to making decisions,” he said. “We are working as hard as we can to provide proper training for our jail officers so they can make the right decisions when hard decisions must be made.

“Our goal is not to use force, but we will use it if necessary.”

He praised the assistance from RCC.

“Warden (Robert) Tanner and the staff from Rayburn Correctional Center are a great asset to us in many ways, including providing training which we might otherwise not be able to afford,” Seal said. “RCC is such a valuable presence in our community and I appreciate all they do for the sheriff’s office and for the entire parish.”