YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — Capt. Kevin Mercer of the Youngstown Police Department says it never hurts to say “thank you,” or “please,” or “I appreciate that.”
And that is never more true than when you are taking somebody into custody, he told seven new officers who recently joined the department.
“I’m a fan of communication,” Mercer tells the class the day before Christmas in the department’s makeshift training facility (the old municipal court facility on the third floor of the police department).
“I’m also a big fan of please. Thank you. I appreciate that,” Mercer said. “Everybody gets respect. I don’t need to talk nasty to you to get respect. I don’t need that.”
The new officers were sworn in December 17 and underwent about a week of training on departmental policies and tactics before hitting the streets December 26 with a Field Training Officer.
The officers will be assigned a Field Training Officer for each of the department’s three shifts before they are allowed to have a beat of their own, a process that most likely will take up to four months. Because beats are often assigned by seniority, they most likely will wind up working afternoons or midnights.
The seven officers are Bernard Fronzaglio, 23, of Hubbard; James Shirlla, 23, of Boardman; Alex Wharry, 25, of New Springfield; Tyra Grant, 31, of Youngstown; Dave Garcia, 31, of Youngstown; Deon Gilbert, 26, of Youngstown; and Thomas Feterholf, 27, of McDonald.
WKBN has been allowed access into the training for the new officers.
On Christmas Eve, they learned of internal affairs procedures as well as training on both policies and procedures on use of force. Some of that training included one of the most basic things police officers do — handcuffing a suspect.
Before the officers hit the training mats where the gallery in the former Courtroom Number Two used to be, they unload their weapons, then make sure there are no bullets remaining. Mercer said that is to ensure safety because the officers will be handcuffing themselves and also trying to keep a colleague on the ground who will be playing the part of a recalcitrant suspect.
Mercer begins by telling the students to make sure of the most basic thing; make sure the cuffs work before putting them on your duty belt.
He then instructs them on the proper way to handcuff someone, telling the new officers these are the instructions they should give: “Turn around, put your hands behind your back, palms together like you’re praying, interlock your fingers, turn your palms towards me, spread your feet.”
Mercer stressed repeatedly that officers should use the same technique regardless if they are taking someone into custody who turned themselves in on a traffic warrant — a person who is least likely to flee — or arresting a homicide suspect.
“If you do the same thing every single time, it becomes second nature,” Mercer told them.
Mercer also gave them an example of how to act if an officer faces someone who does not want to be handcuffed, using Shirlla as his test suspect. Mercer asks Shirlla to turn around so he can be taken into custody in a bar.
“No,” Shirlla said.
“You won’t let me handcuff you?” Mercer asks.
Shirlla, who is standing with his arms folded casually, answers, “negative.”
Mercer is standing about six feet away from Shirlla but he asks the class to imagine that they really are at a bar or another public place. Shirlla is standing casually, voice low, and not causing trouble. Mercer keeps the six feet barrier because he is far enough away to react if Shirlla tries something. Mercer remains calm, keeps his voice level, and continues to talk to Shirlla, telling him that he does not want to fight several police officers who are on their way as his backup.
Mercer could move in to force Shirlla to place his hands behind his back, or he could hit him with a Taser or pepper spray. But Mercer asks the class how that would make him, and police in general, look if he uses that kind of force on a person who is merely saying no.
Mercer also tells the class not to mix up a person confusing the instructions to be handcuffed with resistance, and to make sure when they are cuffing someone, they do it properly so they do not cause any pain. Someone may begin flailing around, not to resist, but because they are in pain.
Mercer also told the class that it doesn’t matter who takes the person into custody, as long as it’s done. With two officers on the scene, a person may feel more comfortable with another officer than the one who is doing the talking. Mercer said if that’s the case, that officer should step away and let the other officer do the talking.
“The goal is to get the person compliant,” Mercer said. “Force is your last option. It really, really is.”