Nine-week course explains police thinking and training

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Police Capt.  Mike Herb gives Citizens Academy students an inside tour of the Forest Grove Police Department in one of the last classes of the nine-week course. As the spokesman for the Forest Grove Police Department, Capt. Mike Herb pays close attention to law-enforcement news stories and has noticed that many focus on officers’ use of force.

“What you don’t get to see in the headline,” said Herb, “is our use of restraint.”

Herb made his comment to two dozen area residents who got a firsthand look at the tension between force and restraint during the Forest Grove Police Department’s 2013 Citizen’s Academy.

The nine-week academy, which wrapped up last week, was held on Wednesday evenings and led by different officers of the Forest Grove Police Department to inform members of the public on patrol procedures, criminal investigations, forensics and other criminal justice-related topics.

Christine Kidd, who attended the academy with her husband, City Councilor Richard Kidd, said she signed up, in part, to learn more about how the police interact with young people. “I’ve seen what teachers are going through,” said Kidd, who works in the Forest Grove School District.

At the March 20 session, to demonstrate the various appropriate levels of force, Herb enlisted Sgt. Dean Foster and Capt. Kevin Ellingsburg to act out several situations, at times using a rubber knife and fake gun.

“Use of force can vary from placing your hands on someone, all the way to pulling the trigger,” said Herb, who walked the academy members through techniques used to deal with everyone from passive drunks to armed intruders.

The decision of what force an officer should employ depends on a variety of factors, including the spontaneity of a conflict.

Foster said that if a threat escalates, so can force.

A video clip showed a dramatic example of lethal force in an October 2006 incident at College Place apartments in which police received a call saying a shooting was imminent.

Police arrived to find Neil Bruce Marcy, a suicidal resident of the apartments, who had made the call and exited his unit holding two handguns. After Marcy refused to comply with an order to drop his weapons, officers shot him.

To determine if proper force is used in such cases, Foster said, officers ask themselves: “The second I pulled the trigger, what was in my head?”

Most police work, however, involves efforts to prevent violent confrontations. In a March 6 presentation on gangs, Officer Matthew Jacobsen recalled a late night patrolling the streets of Forest Grove when he encountered two young men on Pacific Avenue. One of them said he was fearful of running into rival gang members that evening and Jacobsen learned he was carrying a single, sharpened blade of a gardening shear, which he referred to as a “shank.”

The young man, Jacobsen told members of the academy, was a classic example of someone involved in the Norteno-Sureno gang rivalry, which has crept across the Mexican border into the United States.

The Nortenos and Surenos tend to branch out into smaller sub-groups and mark their turf with graffiti.

But not everyone who spray-paints a fence poses a threat, Jacobsen said: “Some are just kids.”

Forest Grove police work with other local agencies, such as Washington County’s Interagency Gang Enforcement Team, to combat gang activity, said Jacobsen, who added that working with local schools and former gang members can also keep at-risk kids off of the streets.

Christine Kidd said that the academy sessions didn’t answer all her questions, but do offer a chance to learn about “the things you just don’t understand.”

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