Playing With The Police: Student Club Participates In Law Enforcement Training

Story by Peter Stampher

During the month of April, Criminal Justice Leadership club members participated in active shooter training exercises, staged at empty schools, in conjunction with the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office.

Whatcom Community College’s Criminal Justice Leadership Club has been active in the law enforcement community. The club assists criminal justice students at Whatcom in networking with law enforcement agencies.

Active shooter training is a role-playing scenario staged by the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office in order to teach officers how to respond to an active shooter. An active shooter is a shooter who is continuing to fire their weapon at the time that officers respond.

Students were given different scenarios to act out. Sometimes club members acted as the active shooter, and other times “we were dead, laying on the floor,” said Cody Purcell, Deputy Chief Administrator of the club.

These exercises were staged at Birchwood Elementary and Meridian High School. The club’s role in the training made it more realistic, Purcell said. No actual guns were used in the process.

“The sheriff’s office contacted us and asked for students to role-play every Tuesday twice a day for the month of April,” said John Taylor, program coordinator for the Criminal Justice Program and advisor to the club. The club provided four students to facilitate the training, he said.

The activity was so successful that law enforcement agencies from the surrounding area joined in, Taylor said. These agencies included the Blaine, Lynden, Ferndale, Sumas, Everson, and Western Police Departments, said Dustin Westhoff, the Chief of Administration of the club. The training does not only benefit the officers. “Students get a lot out of it too,” Taylor said.

The Criminal Justice Leadership Club first became involved in police training exercises with the Blaine Police Department. The Blaine Police Department was putting on “officer down” drills, training police officers on how to respond to a situation involving an injured officer.

The students played the downed officers, Taylor said. “This was really the first role-playing we did,” he said. Club members became involved in this activity through Taylor’s promotion of the club.

The student’s professionalism in this activity was noticed by the officers involved, Taylor said. “We’re [now] one of the first places law enforcement agencies call when they need role-players.”

Taylor said the club is currently working with the Chief of Police for the city of Ferndale to create an interactive credit course at Whatcom. The Ferndale Chief of Police reached out to the club to develop this opportunity because of the club’s involvement in training exercises he said.

The course is still in development. Taylor said this course would involve a fake crime scene created by the Ferndale Police Department. Students would “pull fingerprints and take trace evidence” from this staged crime scene, Westhoff said.

After dismantling the crime scene students would take evidence to the classroom. There they would use the evidence to find leads, follow them and solve the crime, Taylor said. After designating suspects the students would learn to serve warrants.

Officers would role-play characters for the course which could be available winter quarter 2014, Taylor said. “This is changing the mold” from students playing roles in police exercises “to students doing investigative work,” he said.

In addition to participation in training exercises, the club often hosts state, local, and federal guest speakers at club meetings, Taylor said.

Taylor said guest speakers have included FBI agents, Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife officers, and members from the Whatcom County Sherriff’s Office.

One recent guest speaker of the club was Detective Kevin Bohey of the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office. He spoke on the use of polygraph instruments for lie detection. Although regulations do not allow polygraph test demonstrations, club members were shown how the instrument works and how it is used, Taylor said.

Future presentations will include guest speakers from the DEA and Search and Rescue, Taylor said.

Over the last year, “from the guest speakers to the events we’ve done, [the club] has just exploded,” Westhoff said.

Taylor said that early in his own law enforcement career he had to make connections by himself. He started as a reserve officer before working as a patrol officer and undercover detective. Taylor retired as a Special Agent in Charge for the law enforcement division of the California Department of Justice.

With the networking connections provided with participation in the Criminal Justice Leadership Club, “[club members] are really investing in their futures,” he said.

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