Young and seasoned Dickinson Police officers alike suited up in SWAT-looking attire this past week to complete its annual training, utilizing tactics, deescalation skills and use of force decisions.

The Dickinson Police Department participated in its annual in-service training Tuesday, March 23, where each officer had to complete four stages of its defensive tactical communication course.

Lt. Mike Hanel, who served as the safety instructor for the training, noted that the intent of the yearly seminar is to expose DPD officers with as much use of force and defensive tactics training as possible within the 8-hour work period.

“I think it's the department's responsibility to provide their officers with as high caliber of training as possible. Anything short of that is not only putting their lives in jeopardy, but also, citizens (and) suspects’ lives if we're being derelict on that sort of training,” Hanel noted.

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Stage one involved defensive tactics; stage two incorporated a “use of force” virtual simulator where officers had to utilize use of force decisions on challenging scenarios, Hanel said. The third stage involved a classroom lecture on a critical incident, where Sgt. Brandon Stockie spoke on “De-escalation Tactical Communication.”

Two Dickinson Police officers conduct training. (Photo courtesy of Lt. Mike Hanel)
Two Dickinson Police officers conduct training. (Photo courtesy of Lt. Mike Hanel)
The Dickinson Police Department perform a challenging scenario involving a home intruder during its annual training Tuesday, March 23, 2021. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)
The Dickinson Police Department perform a challenging scenario involving a home intruder during its annual training Tuesday, March 23, 2021. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)
A DPD officer, who plays the role of a home intruder, hides behind a vehicle in a Taser suit during a training scenario Tuesday, March 23, 2021, at the City of Dickinson Public Safety Center. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)
A DPD officer, who plays the role of a home intruder, hides behind a vehicle in a Taser suit during a training scenario Tuesday, March 23, 2021, at the City of Dickinson Public Safety Center. (Jackie Jahfetson/The Dickinson Press)

“That’s a big one (on) how to tactically and verbally engage (with) someone to deescalate, and that’s obviously the big hot-button topic nowadays — how to deescalate the situation,” Hanel said. “Obviously, we want our officers to be effective not only in defensive tactics and use of force decisions but also how to verbally communicate with subjects to get them to comply.”

The last stage of the in-service training day entailed a simulation scenario, where the officers had to combine everything they learned in the three prior stages with a real-life challenge. The scenario involved two officers — a primary officer and a back-up officer — where they were both briefed of a home intruder situation and they’d “have to treat it like they would on the street,” Hanel said.

A DPD officer, who acted the role of the intruder, suited up in a Taser suit in the scenario. The suit protected him from actually being shocked by a Taser when it was deployed in the scene, but he could “pantomime the experience of being tased.”

The last stage incorporated verbal deescalation, taser deployment and even reacting with a simunition firearm. Simunition firearms are like “paintballs,” Hanel said.

“They have quite a bit of speed to them so you definitely need to know if you get it, which is a stress inducer. That's why it's such an effective training tool because officers know it's not going to feel good if they get hit (or) if they make a tactical error on it,” Hanel said. “So it helps them keep their head in the game and make smart tactical decisions... Those are basically firearms that are incapable of chambering a live round, so they're very safe to use.”

The all-day in-service training incorporated real-life looking props such as a rubber-made crowbar and a battery-operated shock knife — which would simulate a slashing feel.

“The biggest component, though, is just the officers’ mindset going in there. We can equip them with all this stuff, all these training aids, but ultimately, training events like this is to challenge their tactical decision making, their verbal deescalation skills,” Hanel said.

Hanel also video records each scenario with all of the officers where they will revisit the training footage with their supervisor following the training day, and provide feedback on how the officers performed in each given scenario.

“We’re actually hoping to see some mistakes, so we can see if we need to change our future trainings or whatnot, or maybe we need to clarify some things that maybe they had misconception on (such as) use of force constraint of some sort. And so that we actually are hoping to maybe see some sort of minor deficiencies,” Hanel said.

From DPD’s investigators, school resource officers to patrol staff, all of the department’s officers are required to go through these training stages along with its dispatchers also there to assess the scenarios.”

“We definitely pride ourselves on that, because a lot of agencies in the state don't really put this much emphasis into training. But training is a really big component to making sure we're up to date on the latest skills and tactics and case law that affect law enforcement agencies,” Hanel remarked, adding, “So we're providing our officers as much mental and physical tools in the toolbox to be able to do their do their job correctly.”

Though the DPD has some younger officers who are less experienced, Hanel said he believes it's the department’s training regiment that’s led them to where these young officers are now is proving itself effective.

“(We examine) if their perception of how the event happened at the time was different from what happened in the video because we see that a lot on the street," Hanel said. "We have a citizen capture a use of force on the cellphone and it may only captured just that narrow last 30 seconds of the event, where before that, there was so much prior to that event that led up to that officers decision to use force of whatever magnitude.

“Oftentimes that recollection, when they're in the moment like that, they they know what they're doing is right. But for whatever reason, there's just that sliver of the last second that they're getting judged on. That's why we're training our officers to utilize the best decision making that they have at the time that it's occurring, based on case law and their prior training and all that.”