Friday, October 25, 2013
Lt. Douglas Wright is a bit scary. He starts tonight’s class - on patrol procedures and officer survival - the same way he begins with potential recruits. There’s a method to his approach, he says. Often, by the time he is through with the recruits, their numbers have diminished significantly. They have decided police work isn’t really for them.
This is not a bad thing. Wright’s job is to make sure his officers survive police work and to do so they need to understand what they are getting into.
Wright is currently the night shift watch commander at SPD. He has 17 years in law enforcement.
As he speaks, we are passing around a duty belt. As it makes its way from person to person, we all somewhat casually look at it and pass it on. It reaches the last person and Wright takes it back and holds it up.
Summerville Police Department has only ever lost one officer. His name is Officer William Bell. It is his duty belt that we have examined.
There is a collective intake of breath when we hear this.
Bell was Wright’s father-in-law.
Wright’s scariness takes another form. It is more passion than anger or bullying. Wright has seen, he says, “more incidents than I can count of officers who have nearly or who have lost their life here in Flowertown in the Pines.”
Bell and off-duty Deputy Eugene Marion Wright were assisting a motorist change a tire when another vehicle slammed into them, killing the two officers and injuring the female motorist. The driver then tried to leave the scene but citizens restrained him until the police came.
Wright tours the country doing training on police survival.
It is, he says, often about reading body language, being aware of what is around you and not becoming complacent.
He tells us there are three true problem groups in society - The three Ds: Drunks, Drugs and Deranged.
For the rest of the three-hour class we are slammed with video after video - graphic and unforgiving - showing police officers being shot, beaten up, run over and, in most cases, killed.
With each video, Wright points out either what the officer should have seen to protect him or herself, or what the officer did wrong.
He offers statistics: 71 percent of line-of-duty deaths are by handgun; 14 percent by “other;” 11 percent by rifle and 4 percent by shotgun.
In 2006, South Carolina was the most violent state in the nation. In 2011, it was down to the 11th most violent. Further, he points out, S.C. is a drug corridor state, with easy access to guns, lower education and a hot climate…all factors in crime vs. law enforcement.
Suddenly we realize it is after 9 p.m. and the class is over. One by one we bring our jaws back to normal, stiff from hanging down so long. It will be a very difficult night for falling asleep…too many awful images of good cops making a split-second mistake and paying the ultimate price.