Taking their hats off to a full inspection

Scrutiny: After hours of preparation, troopers in Westminster undergo their first rigorous review under a new commander.

October 30, 2003|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

As Tfc. Robert Mondor pulled his cruiser into the garage behind the Westminster state police barracks, his commander, Capt. Scott Yinger, smiled and asked, "This was the one who issued the challenge to find something wrong?"

In less time than it takes to service a car at Jiffy Lube, Yinger and four veteran state troopers surrounded Mondor's shiny Crown Victoria and performed a routine that took them under the hood and into the trunk. The barracks commander also scrutinized the trooper - even spinning him around to get a close look at his uniform and gear, front and back.

Mondor passed - but with one minor blemish on his report card. The card that documents the calibrations of his speedometer was in need of an update.

Though monthly inspections are held at all state police barracks, the more rigorous "Class A" review held yesterday is a much more uncommon affair, scheduled at the discretion of the barracks commander, state police say. It was the first such inspection at the Westminster barracks in more than a decade, troopers there said.

When Yinger began his tenure in Westminster in August, he told troopers to rise to a higher standard in their personal appearance and the condition of their equipment. He gave them notice that he would administer an inspection at the end of October to all 93 sworn officers at the barracks.

"These inspections promote a military bearing," Yinger said. "It gives the public less fear and anxiety, that there's not chaos, that they're in a law-abiding society and everything's under control."

A trooper's car, Yinger said, is his office, a mobile work station that must be stocked with the right equipment in good working condition.

Caring for the police cruiser is a big responsibility, said Sgt. Thornnie Rouse, a state police spokesman.

"It's a $25,000-plus vehicle, and then there's the equipment they are assigned," Rouse said. "Every now and then, things fall by the wayside and you have to tap them on the shoulder.

Yinger said the inspections are also important for officer safety.

Yinger used the same routine he developed as the commander of the LaPlata barracks: a comprehensive checklist covering everything from tire pressure to the shine on a trooper's nameplate.

In fair weather, the troopers would stand in a line behind their cruisers on the barracks parking lot. Yesterday, because of the rain, the troopers drove their cars into a garage bay one at a time. About 10 nervous troopers fidgeted in the barracks' main building while awaiting their turn.

The supervisors of each 10-person work group at the barracks underwent the inspection first, which was performed by Yinger and Lt. Michael Cain, the barracks' second-in-command. Then the troopers followed under the watchful eye of their supervisors.

When Mondor pulled in, he popped the hood and trunk and turned on all his lights. While the red, white and blue lights of his vehicle flashed like a disco strobe light, Mondor stepped out of his car, stood ramrod straight in front of Yinger and saluted his commander.

Yinger looked Mondor up and down and nodded his head in approval at the dress uniform: dark brown jacket, dark green trousers, light brown shirt, black tie and Stetson campaign hat. The gleam of his black patent leather shoes matched the shine on his car, where water beaded on its waxed surface.

Yinger flipped open Mondor's ammunition packs on his gun belt, shook his defense spray and turned him around. Yinger lifted Mondor's handcuffs from his belt and shook them, calling out the serial numbers to Cain to make sure they matched their records.

Through it all, Mondor said little more than, "Sir, yes, sir."

Cain led Mondor to the trunk and asked him to point out several items troopers are required to carry: a camera loaded with film, fire extinguisher, orange traffic cones, crime scene tape, a reflective vest, a spare tire, a hazmat suit, paper bags, jumper cables and tools. One trooper even has a teddy bear for traumatized children.

Troopers organized their cars in a variety of ways, using an array of storage chests and bags. Supervisors checked whether the troopers were carrying updated state police manuals, whether brackets for radar gear were properly mounted. They checked to see that flashlights were working, and looked for dirt underneath car seats.

The cars, including unmarked ones, were sparkling inside and out - some troopers even waxed the underside of the hood.

"These guys put in at least six hours into cleaning and organizing their cars," Cain said. "But it's hard not to find something missing."

Tfc. Frank Fornoff cleaned his car's engine the night before and seemed fairly relaxed during his inspection.

"We should be held accountable," Fornoff said. "It's part of the image of the state police."

Yinger told Fornoff to reorganize his manual. The commander gave him a smile as he said, "Frank, you're doing a good job. Looks good."

Yinger completed the inspection with an examination of each trooper's .40-caliber handgun. The guns were on the table in front of each trooper, emptied of magazines.

"Your group performed very well," Yinger told the troopers afterward in a conference room. "There were no fatal errors, or mistake."

He told them to expect another inspection in six months.

"I said I would raise the bar of expectations," he told the troopers, "and we're going to keep raising it up."

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