The cadet was ordered to respond to a trespasser at the Coast Guard housing complex in Elizabeth City mid-May.
He had no idea he was going to be “shot.” But Tommy McMasters, College of The Albemarle’s new director of basic law enforcement training, did.
In fact, the scenario – part of a training exercise – played out exactly as McMasters envisioned. After all, it was McMasters – with 12 years of experience in law enforcement as an office - who wrote the scenario as part of COA’s Basic Law Enforcement Training (BLET) Program. Last month, 15 of his cadets passed the two-day training exercise and will now become certified law enforcement officers in the state of North Carolina.
“The state mandates that an officer must be trained on certain scenarios,” McMasters said, referring to the BLET program.
Cadets have to complete the program knowing how to deal with situations like robberies, suspicious persons and trespassers, among other things. The cadet who responded to the trespasser at the Coast Guard housing complex failed to ascertain from the victim, if the suspect had any weapons. That failure forced the instructor supervising that scenario to escalate the situation with the help of the COA drama students portraying the victims and suspects involved in these set-ups.
“I tried to make it as realistic as possible,” McMasters said. “Once they came to the Coast Guard housing units – that was our little city. The instructors were looking for certain criteria and the role-players kept turning up the heat until the student hit all the criteria that the state mandates.”
For example, when the cadet in the mock trespassing situation arrived on the scene, the 60-year-old victim mentioned that the suspect – who was in her home – had tried to cut her and later threatened her with a gun. The cadet failed to pick up on these clues or ask about any weapons which might have been involved, so the instructor signaled to the actor that they needed to escalate the scenario.
The result, McMasters said, was that the cadet walked into the victim’s house without picking up on the clues about the knife or the gun and ended up getting shot at – with a paintball gun in this case – by the suspect.
“If they didn’t hit the criteria, the instructor would signal to the role-player if things needed to escalate,” McMasters said. “Sometimes it would be a nod or some type of clue that it’s not being handled.”
“When we get there, the instructors expect mistakes,” McMasters added. “We make sure we hit every scenario the state requires.”
McMasters even added a few set-ups the state doesn’t require but are ones he thinks will be useful in their training, based on his past experience as an officer. His students also learned how to deal with situations involving traffic stops and how to handle a subject with a gun.
“Because that is getting more common,” McMasters said. “We wanted to make sure they get their game plan together before going in and getting shot.”
While this sort of patrol training is not new, McMasters said it is new to COA’s law enforcement program. When he took over as COA’s director of law enforcement training in January, he said the community college allowed him to make changes to the program that he thought would make it stronger.
“They allowed me the luxury to step outside the box,” McMasters said. “COA embraced me and put no restrictions on me. I think the training went absolutely excellent.”
Thomas Vorhees, a cadet who attended last week’s patrol training, agreed although he admitted to being a little nervous as he was put through his paces in the different scenarios.
“Once you’re in the situation,” Vorhees said, “it came a little more natural in these scenarios. It fell it into place.”
Vorhees, who is retired from the United States Marine Corp, said logically thinking through what do was easier when faced with an actual situation, versus reading about things like defense tactics or how to deal with domestic situations.
“You got so much more out of it than just reading out of a book,” said Vorhees, who will begin working for the Currituck County Sheriff’s Department after he graduates in May. “It put almost all of it into just one practical experience.”
During the two-day training, cadets wore protective gear to help deflect the paintballs that instructors and drama students aimed at them. McMasters enlisted the help of local law enforcement members – like Elizabeth City’s Police Chief Eddie Buffaloe Jr. and members of the Dare County Sheriff’s Office, the Kitty Hawk Police Department and the Nags Head Police Department – to serve as instructors monitoring students as they navigated these scenarios.
One of McMasters’ set-ups revealed itself before the students involved even realized it was one of the training scenarios.
McMasters said one of the cadets was near a port-a-potty when he decided he needed to use the restroom. As he reached for the handle, he realized the door was stuck and heard someone inside.
“Chief Buffalo was the suspect,” McMasters said, adding that he had locked himself in the makeshift bathroom for a set-up involving a barricaded subject.
“I let the scenario go,” McMasters said of the impromptu arrangement. “They called for back-up like they were supposed to. Chief Buffalo came out shooting of course. But they got him.”
“I’m proud of them,” McMasters added.
The next COA Basic Law Enforcement Program will begin Aug. 18 and run through December at the Elizabeth City campus as a daytime Monday-Friday course. Interested students should begin the process for admissions now. The deadline for all paperwork to be enrolled in the fall is August 1. Interested students may call (252) 335-0821 x 5920 or email firstname.lastname@example.org