Better training in use of force urged for police

November 05, 1994|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,Sun Staff Writer

The Baltimore Police Department needs to better train its officers in the use of force against suspects and should ban two types of long-used, but unsanctioned, weapons, a consultant has concluded.

A report, which was released in summary form yesterday, urges the department to adopt a comprehensive policy on the use of force that would consolidate a series of disjointed memos and training guidelines.

"To an outside observer, our efforts in [training] would certainly appear to be fragmented and sporadic, at best," Col. Joseph R. Bolesta, chief of the Human Resources Bureau, wrote in a memo responding to the report.

"I'm not surprised by what they found," said Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier.

The report also called for standardized nightsticks to be issued, instead of officers being allowed to buy their own, and for a ban on weapons such as blackjacks -- small leather pouches filled with lead pellets or a steel plate.

Mr. Frazier asked for the review in August after West Baltimore resident Jesse Chapman was found dead in the back of a police van after his arrest. Witnesses said officers beat the 30-year-old man, an allegation not supported by a grand jury review.

The founder of the institute that prepared the report, Robert K. Koga -- who has known the commissioner since his days in San Jose, Calif. -- and an aide spent 2 1/2 days in Baltimore, at a cost of about $3,000, and are still poring over manuals as they evaluate the department.

Mr. Koga founded the training and consultant center in the early 1980s after he retired from the Los Angeles Police Department. It has worked with numerous police agencies nationwide, including those in Denver, San Jose and Dallas and with the U.S. Secret Service.

The Baltimore department declined to release the full report, saying it contained sensitive tactical information, but made public Colonel Bolesta's memo outlining the institute's findings and his responses.

William Pelkey, executive director of the Koga Institute, said bTC developing a standard policy on the use of force is essential to ensure a safe department that can be trusted by citizens.

"Written policies drive police departments and establish parameters in which officers function," he said. "Everything pertaining to use of force should be together. You should look in one place and find the philosophy and the practice. When you don't have those together, you might have contradictions."

The main problem in Baltimore, Mr. Pelkey said, is that department rules are "so fragmented that officers have no clue on what is authorized or not."

Some recommendations by the institute may not be implemented.

For example, the report calls for monthly firearms training for each officer, something Colonel Bolesta said is impractical because of a lack of money and training space.

Officer Gary McLhinney, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said he supports the institute's finding in regards to training. Until last year, he said, officers only fired their weapons once a year on a practice range. Now, they train twice a year.

"That's inadequate," Officer McLhinney said. "The fact they recognize there is a problem with training is a step in the right direction."

Officer McLhinney would not comment on the recommendations ban certain equipment.

Mr. Frazier said he became concerned after the Chapman incident, which is still under internal review, when he learned an officer may have hit Mr. Chapman in the back with a blackjack.

He said there is a "consensus of the command staff that slapjacks and blackjacks are inappropriate law enforcement tools." They most likely will be banned, Mr. Frazier said.

Colonel Bolesta agreed.

"We've never trained anyone to carry that equipment," he said. "That concerned us. . . . We don't issue them. But there is tacit approval for that kind of thing."

The institute also recommends that the department replace the "espantoon," a 22-inch nightstick with a knurled end, with a 29-inch straight baton.

Mr. Pelkey said the longer stick is safer for officers involved in a close struggle with a suspect and its smooth surface avoids unnecessary injuries to people being hit.

Also on the way out could be the leather handle on the end of the nightstick, used by officers to twirl their batons. The sight of officers walking down the street swinging the stick can be unsettling to residents, some commanders feel.

"The thong serves no useful purpose other than decorative and should not be considered as an addition to any future impact weapon adopted by the department," Colonel Bolesta wrote in his memo.

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