Friday, December 30, 2005

Happy New Year

After the New Year's holiday, we'll only have 9 more days of class.

I finished off this week by passing all of the field problems. Overall, the class did much better on this second set of graded scenarios than on the first practice set. There were far fewer failures and everyone seemed more comfortable with the task of solving each scene.

I was elected as class speaker for graduation and will now be spending time trying to come up with a decent speech while studying for the final set of tests. We have 9 more regular tests and one 450-question test needed to become certified as a peace officer in Arizona.

In addition to the tests, we still have to qualify on the shooting range in the day time, complete a 9 mile run to the top of South Mountain (where all of the radio towers are), perform traffic direction in an actual intersection, perform a series of physical fitness tests, and have a simulated shootout using paintball guns.

I just found out that the recruit that was dismissed in week 6 will be re-starting the academy on Tuesday, January 3rd. His classroom is right next to ours so he will probably be watching us with envy as he runs around in his black and whites while we finish up our last two weeks. I'm glad he's been given another chance to become an officer but wish he could have made it through with us.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Home on the Range

I'm really starting to get the hang of this shooting thing.

We spent the entire day at the shooting range today completing a variety of drills. First we practiced shooting while tactically walking forward, backward, and sideways while attempting to take cover behind a wall.

Next, we shot at small moving targets from 10 and 15 yards away. At the same time our ammunition magazines were loaded randomly with real and fake bullets. Each time a fake bullet enters the chamber, the gun purposely malfunctions (requiring us to tap the butt of the handle and rack the slide in order to eject the fake round). The targets were much smaller than the ones we were used to and moved at various speeds. I did pretty well at this but did have some misses.

Then we shot at targets from both the driver's and passenger seat of a police vehicle. We also ran through a scenario where we had to pull up in a car, unbuckle the seatbelt, open the door with one hand while aiming the gun with the other, and then move to the back of the car without taking our sights off the target. We then practiced shooting from behind cover while standing, kneeling, and lying on our stomach.

The last moving drill was the best. We had a series of three walls (each one closer to the row of targets). We were timed as we shot at small metal targets from both sides of a wall. We then had to reload our gun while moving to the next closest wall. We couldn't move until we hit each target twice. A total of 21 hits had to be made before the time stopped. I had the fastest time of the day with 65 seconds (the second place finisher had 70 seconds.)

The last thing I did before lunch was a simulated shooting program. In a small dark room, an entire wall had a video projected on it. There were six different video scenarios that would play and we had to decide whether or not to shoot. We used laser guns so the computer could show where each shot actually hit on the screen. It was like playing a realistic video game. I passed all of the scenarios.

After lunch, we had a practice 'day qualification.' This is a timed exercise of a total of 25 shots from 25, 15, 7, and 3 yards. Some of the timed shots required us to shoot twice, reload, and shoot twice more before the targets turn sideways. From 3 yards, we had to use one hand (first the strong hand, and then the weak hand). The target is the silhoutte of a human with a small box around the heart area and a larger box from the bottom of the throat to just below the ribcage). A perfect score is 250 and I got a 243 (that's 20 hits in the small box, 4 hits in the larger center box, and 1 hit on the body area but outside the boxes).

Tomorrow (Thursday) is our final set of graded field problems. If I pass all of these, it should be pretty smooth sailing to graduation.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Go Time

Today's ride-along was great. I met a police officer from a notoriously busy precinct and got into his patrol car. We were about to fill up the gas tank when a hot call came in regarding some illegal aliens running in the park right down the street from the station. We sped off without getting gas, drove up onto the park and saw some other police officers struggling with a male suspect. The officer in my car jumped out and helped them subdue the suspect. It turns out he had a handgun on him which he dropped when spotted by the police and then started running through the park.

We then learned that a mexican coyote (paid human smuggler) was holding about 40 illegal aliens in a nearby house. We then got a call that they had escaped the house and were running around the neighborhood. We rounded them all up and brought them back to the house. It was empty, dirty, and had bags of shoes and belts (the captors took all of their shoes to discourage them from running away). Channel 15 news was there but I didn't see myself when I watched their coverage at 5:00.

Later, we arrested a drunk transient trespasser that refused to leave and wanted to fight. Then we helped track down a guy wanted on outstanding warrants that fled from his car and ran home. I covered the front door while a few officers went in and dragged him out. His elderly father looked humiliated to have his teenage son hauled away in handcuffs.

After a quick lunch, we were called to a fatal car accident. I was busy putting up crime scene tape, setting flares, and arranging traffic cones. By the time we approached the actual wreck, the victims were gone but the cars were mangled. Apparently, one of them ran a red light and killed the driver of another car.

We then responded to a minor car accident involving three vehicles. Citations were issued and we were quickly 10-8 (back in service).

As the end of the shift neared, we heard a call of a possible stolen vehicle on the freeway heading in towards our direction. We were close and decided to cut off the driver if he exited at our street. He passed our exit and was approaching the next. We were on the freeway access road waiting for him to take the next exit. Instead, he pulled over on the freeway right next to where we were sitting. I watched the other officers perform a felony stop with weapons drawn and arrest the two occupants. If they had decided to flee on foot (over the fence), we were ready to take them down. My training officer was disappointed that they didn't run towards us since were were perfectly positioned for a surprise takedown.

The ten hour shift flew by so quickly I could hardly believe it was over. Even the 'slow' part of the day was fun as were cruised through neighborhoods and apartment complexes looking for suspicious cars or people. While he drove, I would randomly run license plates in the police computer looking for expired tags or vehicles not matching the plates.

If today was a just a glimpse of things to come, I'm sure I picked the right career.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Home Stretch

After a four day weekend, I'll start my 15th week on Tuesday riding along with an officer in a busy precinct. This police precinct is in the southwest part of the city and is considered the most active. I will be a non-uniformed passenger and was hoping to have my bullet-proof vest by this day but it has not yet arrived from the manufacturer.

Last week's driving training was topped off by an exciting day on Friday. We got to put all of the different driving techniques we learned to the test on the 'challenge course.' This course included a long section of backing up, swerves, circles, narrow passageways, hairpin turns, and one long straightaway. Each cone knocked over added two seconds to the overall time. The goal time was under four minutes. We got three attempts and my best time was 2:51 (after the 1-cone penalty). The best time of the day was 2:41 but I was in the top five.

We were supposed to go home from the driving track but our sergeant asked us to return to the academy for some extra field-problem practice. We took turns walking into different scenarios being acted out by our defensive tactics instructor. When I entered the room, he was dressed in full pads so I was expecting a fight. My scenario involved a person with an outstanding misdemeanor warrant. As I handed him his drivers licencse, I quickly grabbed his wrist and twisted him into an arm bar. I then told him he was under arrest and placed him in handcuffs. I passed this test (many others in my class told the actor 'you're under arrest' or 'turn around' as soon as they walked in the room which prompted him to quickly run away). Other scenarios involved aggravated assault on a police officer and a check-welfare call on a man sleeping in the park. I was surprised to see some of my fellow classmates in action make bad decisions (like the person who shot the sleepy man as he awoke holding a knife -even though he was sitting down and 15 feet away). Others locked up and took no action during a violent attack on an unconscious officer (one that was serious enough to warrant lethal force).

I know it's hard to react under stress (especially when the rest of the class is watching) but I was hoping my classmates would at least accomplish the basic goal of each scenario. Most everyone did well but a few others showed a lack of confidence, safety tactics, and decision-making.

This week we'll have the final set of graded field problems so hopefully everyone will be prepared. We will also be tested on a firearm simulator. This is like a video game were we watch a scene unfold on a large video screen and react appropriately with a laser equipped gun. When and if we shoot, the simulator will show exactly where each shot hit. The simulator will test us on the decision of whether or not to shoot and where our shots actually go.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A Shot in the Dark

I spent Tuesday evening learning how to shoot a shotgun. The first shot knocked me back a bit but I quickly learned to brace my leg and lean forward. First we shot a nine-pellet blast at a human shaped target from 25 yards. Six of the pellets hit the target within the body area. Next, we shot from 10 yards at the face which created a large hole from the chin to the eyebrows. Then, we shot two shotgun slugs (one large lead slug instead of multiple pieces of buckshot). The slugs were more accurate and tore a quarter-sized hole in the target.

Next, we practiced reaction drills. There were a line of targets turned sideways that had different pictures of people holding guns, cell phones, knives, or nothing. As we tactically side-stepped down the line, the targets would turn and we had a few seconds to decide who to shoot and who not to. All the while, the instructors were yelling and screaming to distract us. I was amazed how fast I emptied my 15 shot magazine and how long it took to reload while under stress. I only shot one innocent person (he was holding a black object but it wasn't a gun). I 'killed' all of the bad guys but had some stray bullets that missed the target.

As darkness fell, it was time to qualify for night shooting. We shot a total of 25 rounds from 15, 7, and 3 yards using flashlights, one-handed (strong hand and weak hand), timed re-loads and quick-draw from the holster. I have a gun mounted light that I was planning on using but after three shots it went dead. This meant I had to hold my three battery maglight while shooting. A perfect score is 250 with a minimum of 210 needed to qualify. I scored a 244 (anything over 240 is considered 'expert' by the department).

Wednesday and Thursday will be spent at the driving track learning high speed pursuits. I heard we get to chase each other around the track code 3 (lights and sirens).

Police term of the day: ADAM HENRY
Phonetic code for the letters "A"and "H" (abbreviation for a**-hole)

Example: That guy was a total Adam Henry.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Burnin' Rubber

Today was the funnest day of the academy so far. The class met at the police driving track at 0600 and watched a few driving videos. Then, we hit the track and got to drive a police cruiser full speed through a series of curves, dog-legs, and straightaways (all the while passing through 9 foot wide 'gates' set up with orange traffice cones). We then spent more time in the classroom learning about proper steering, braking, and acceleration. Finally, we put our new techniques to use as we screamed through the race track a few more times. By the end, I had the tires of my police cruiser squealing the entire time (except for on the long straight section).

Some of my classmates pushed too hard and ended up leaving the roadway and spinning out in the dirt. We had to complete the course within a certain time limit and each cone that was knocked over added two seconds to a driver's overall time. If your car left the track, you were disqualified.

The afternoon was spent on more difficult backing manuevers. We had to drive the car forward and backward through a narrow curving course. This was also timed and we were not allowed to knock over any cones. To pass, we had to successfully drive through the course three consecutive times without any mistakes. Some of my classmates took a dozen or so tries before completing this one.

Last week, my class performed poorly on the practice scenarios. These are random situations performed by actors that test our ability to respond appropriately. I failed one of the situations when I forgot to call for backup and didn't properly secure a weapon I found on the suspect. When you fail, you have one more chance to pass by completing a remedial scenario that is similar to the failed one (failing the remedial scenario is considered a double failure). While some recruits didn't miss any, the majority of us failed one or several of the tests. I could tell our sergeant was very disappointed in us as a whole. We will be graded on the second set of scenarios coming up next week. If any one has a double failure, they will be dismissed from the academy so there is quite a bit of anxiety right now.

Only four more weeks to go until graduation (January 13th).

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Stomach Flu and a Beating, Too

After a restless night of making sure my daughter's throw-up landed in the bedside bucket, I awoke early to the sounds of my wife also purging and dry-heaving. By 0400, I too, began to feel the onset of the stomach flu. I contemplated 'calling in sick' several times but knew I would be missing an important day at the academy.

I decided to tough it out and see how far I could make it on 'Red Man Day.' I left my house at 0500 with an impending sense of doom. This is the day our defensive tactics instructors suit up in red pads and fight the recruits two on one (that's two instructors and one recruit). The fight was only a minute long but felt like an eternity due to my diminished lung capacity complete exhaustion. I think I managed to hit them with a few good strikes but these were nothing compared to the barrage of punches I absorbed. I wasn't knocked down but was overcome by the relentless pounding.

After this near-death experience, I had to run out of the room into the desert and release what little contents I had in my stomach.

I thought the day was over but then learned that we would be practicing a domestic violence scenario acted out by the same instructors. The scene was two brothers fighting one another. As my partner and I tried to apprehend one brother, the other attacked and the fight was on again. We were both knocked to the ground and I was quickly struggling for my gun as the bad guy and I wrestled. After several minutes of ground fighting, we were finally able to arrest both brothers.

My long day has now ended and I am hoping to get to bed early. Tomorrow is the first day of field problems where we are graded on different scenarios ranging from administering DUI tests, to civil disputes, to felony crimes in progress.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Spray and Wash

What do you see in the picture? Zombie? Drug addict? Insomniac? Or police recruit after a blast of pepper spray in the face and eyes?

After 12 weeks of anticipation, my class finally made it through OC spray day. All of the horror stories I heard from previous classes did not do this event justice.

After accepting a burst of spray directly in the face, we were immediately pounced upon by a class instructor delivering punches to the head with a padded glove. I could barely see out of my burning eyes but managed to block these blows. Next, the instructor attempted to take my gun from my holster. I had to hold down on the gun to prevent it from coming loose while punching with my other hand. As my face began to burn and my eyes shut completely, I was commanded to deliver 5 strikes to the face of a rubber human dummy. I then had to turn and face an attacker and identify what type of weapon he was wielding. At this point, my skin was flaming, my eyes were filled with shards of glass and I could barely breath. I had to pry my open with my left hand while aiming my gun at the attacker. Panic set in and I started losing control. I came close to quitting but knew this would require me to re-take the test so I fought through it. Finally, I commanded the attacker to drop the weapon and get down on the ground. I then approached, applied handcuffs, and radioed for assistance.

This ended the scenario but not the pain. I was lead blinded to the recovery area and planted my face in the sprinkler for about five minutes. The cool water helped numb the burning on my face but I still could not open my eyes. The spray is re-activated by water so as soon as I removed my face from the water, the degree of burning increased. The only remedy was to stand facing the breeze and just wait for the agony to subside. After 30 minutes of intense burning, I could finally crack my eyes open for a few seconds at a time. My face started to feel a bit better as the spray dried up.

Many of my classmates decided to take a shower which exacerbated the burning. One unlucky guy stood in the shower as the pepper residue washed down his body to a more sensitive area. The poor guy was screaming in agony and suffered much more than the rest of us.

I arrived home and dreaded the impending shower. The spray had dried on my skin and was mildly irritating but had to be washed off. I spent 45 minutes in the shower washing and re-washing my face and arms which caused me to relive the roasting all over again. After a dozen or so scrubbings, latherings, and rinses, the burning started to lighten up. I was lucky that only my face and arms were affected (my carpool partners had it on their chest and legs, too). It's now 6 hours after the spray and my eyes are still swollen and irritated.

I can say that today's exercise was the most physically painful thing I've ever experienced. There's no way to describe just how bad it was but imagine holding your face directly over a charcoal grill or too close to a campfire. Except that when the radiating heat becomes unbearable, you're unable to move for over 30 minutes.

Even though I had a moment of panic, there were other rectruits that went berzerk. Everyone passed the test but some guys were going crazy in the recovery area. There was uncotrollable swearing, screaming, whails of agony. As irony would have it, the smallest and most seemingly timid woman in the class was hardly affected at all by the spray. She said it felt like a mild sunburn and was fully recovered in a few minutes.

After tomorrow, we'll be three quarters of the way done with all of the fun stuff to come (more shooting, pursuit driving, and field scenarios).

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


We started the morning at the firing range but this time from a much further distance. We've been shooting from 7 yards but moved to 25 yards today. This doesn't sound like much until you try to hold a piece of metal perfectly still in 35 degree weather. The 10-point box inside the human figure target is barely visible from this far away. To make it even harder, there was a time limit on each round of shooting.

The targets were turned sideways so that we could not see the front. Then when the target turned to face us, we had 12 seconds to draw our guns from a fastened holster and fire three shots. Needless to say, my accuracy was not nearly as good as it was during the first few days but I ended up doing pretty well. We ran through a practice qualification shoot which is a series of timed shoots from different distances. A perfect score is 250 and the minimum qualification is 210. I scored a 232 which was in the top ten of my class.

The title of this blog entry has nothing to do with shooting, however. Instead, the 'misfire' occurred during our afternoon defensive fighting class. We were practicing ground fighting techniques (how to fend off a standing attacker from the ground). One of the drills was to show how a person face down on the floor can get up while an attacker is on his back. During my turn (on the bottom) with a 210 pound classmate on my back, I strained hard to get up and involuntarily let out a loud fart. The guy on top of me immediately jumped off while the rest of the class burst into laughter. Luckily, I wasn't the only person to experience this kind of 'misfire' during the session.

Tomorrow (Thursday) is the day we've all been dreading: OC Day. OC is short for Oleoresin Capsicum (law enforcement grade pepper spray). My classmates and I will take turns being sprayed in the face and then proceed through a series of events including fighting, yelling commands, handcuffing, and maintaining proper radio contact. I wasn't worried about this too much until tonight when my wife asked me to cut up half an onion for some chili she was cooking. After a few minutes of chopping the onion, tears were rolling down my cheeks from the intense burning. This may be a bad omen of the pain to come.

Monday, December 05, 2005


On Friday, the class got a chance to fire our guns for the first time. I haven't shot a gun since I was a kid and that was with a rifle.

We posted our human-shaped targets and lined up on the range just before sunrise. It was cold and I was anxious to see if I could handle the .40 caliber Glock model 22.

After reciting our safety rules and a exercising a few 'trial' runs, we were instructed to load a magazine of live ammunition into our guns. I was excited and nervous as I loaded the magazine and racked the slide to move a round into the chamber. I raised my arms, aligned my sights on the target and partially squeezed the trigger until all of the slack was taken out. A final alignment of the sights and a smooth completion of the finger-squeeze and 'BOOM' -we were off and running.

Our instructors spray painted a red circle about the size of a tennis ball on the target for us to aim at. From about 22 feet away, my first few shots were centered correctly but were a bit low. My aim improved throughout the morning as we fired dozens of rounds. Even though I was hitting low, most of my shots were very close together and eventually created a large hole on the lower half of the red circle. Next, we aimed at the head and shot fifteen times at the bridge of the nose.

I was told that I did very well for a first time shooter. All of my shots hit inside the main body area and were fairly close together. Now I need to learn how to stop dipping the muzzle of my gun downward as I press the trigger. This is causing my shots to hit low on the target.

On Sunday, my class volunteered at the Fiesta Bowl half marathon in Scottsdale. From 0600 to 1100I was posted at the finish line funnelling all of the runners through the chutes and recording their race times. I kept expecting to see someone I knew from my former employer (you know who you are) but I was wrong. I liked helping out but missed the opportunity to sleep in (I'm still trying to get used to waking up at 0430 every day and relish getting up at 0800 on the weekends).

Today (Monday) was our second day on the firing range. We did several different shooting drills to improve speed and accuracy. I'm still shooting a bit low but have maintained the ability to keep my shots close together.

Other than shooting, we've been spending a lot of time on handcuffing techniques. In a week or so, we'll be tested as we participate in field problems (scenarios that are acted out by off duty officers that require us to solve whatever situations arise).

Word of the day: RANGE HICKEYS
These are caused when the hot brass shell casings that are ejected from someone else's gun land on your neck and cause a mild burn. If you're real lucky, the bullet casing will slip through the collar of your shirt and fall down your back.