Hernando County Sheriffs Office -Time with the Sheriff

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Question:
How are Hernando County Sheriff’s Deputies trained to respond when they meet resistance in the performance of their lawful duties?

Answer:
Training is an ongoing process within the Sheriff’s Office. We understand the importance of ensuring all of our deputies receive advanced training. We, of course, want them to always make the best split-second decisions in dealing with very difficult and ever changing situations. This is especially true when it comes to high liability topics like our response to a suspect’s resistance. Deputies receive several hours of training in the law enforcement and corrections academies. There is an entire training course dedicated to the use of force and defensive tactics. During the training course, the recruits receive instruction on control techniques. They also learn what level of control is appropriate in different situations. It is important to note that there are many types and levels of control, to include law enforcement presence (just showing up), verbal dialogue, escort techniques, take down tactics, intermediate weapons, and as a last resort, deadly force. Each recruit must pass this course of instruction to graduate the law enforcement academy.

The next consideration, after a citizen graduates the law enforcement academy is the background process. In Hernando County alone roughly 2000 people apply to the Sheriff’s Office for a variety of positions, including law enforcement deputy, detention deputy, and civilian positions. Only about one in 20 of those 2000 applicants make it through the process and are offered a position at the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office. The best indicator of how a person will treat others is the decisions that person has made prior to applying for a job in a law enforcement agency.

Once a person graduates the law enforcement academy and passes the difficult background process, a certified law enforcement deputy or corrections deputy then receives mandatory instruction in our field training (on the job training) programs. Although there are many, many topics taught during field training, one of the high liability topics is use of control training. Deputies are provided with a clear understanding of agency policies and practices. The Office of Professional Standards oversees our Training Unit. The training unit is responsible for teaching defensive tactics, biennially. This is a requirement through the State of Florida’s Criminal Justice Standards and Training Commission (CJSTC). Our training unit has four full time trainers who conduct annual in-service training. This is often referred to in the private sector as continuing education courses. Each course, to include defensive tactics and use of control, is taught by an instructor who holds a state certification in the discipline taught. The instructors must maintain their certifications by attending recertification classes/courses.

While acting in the capacity of a deputy sheriff, it may be necessary to use some level of control to successfully perform one’s lawful duty. In many situations, control may be achieved without the use of physical contact. Sworn personnel are required to successfully complete approved defensive tactics training, to include but not limited to; empty hand control, resistance/control guidelines, ASR (aerosol subject restraint), Taser, and firearms. Those deputies must also review all legal updates and use of control policies during annual in-service training (G.O. 4020). It is important to note that the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office does not teach neck restraint as a method to control a subject. Any force used to the area of the neck would be considered lethal force, as it is known to cause serious injury or death.

Deputies are also trained in self-defense tactics by using a “hands on” approach. Pain compliance and transport techniques are instructed to bring the situation to a successful conclusion while keeping the safety of the deputy and the subject in mind.

When deciding the appropriate use of control, deputies must assess the incident in order to determine the level of control that would be appropriate. When possible, deputies attempt to gain control by means of verbal directives or commands. If verbal directives or commands are ineffective, or not feasible given the circumstances of the situation, control methods may be escalated. If control is necessary, the deputy must decide which technique(s) or authorized equipment will best de-escalate the incident and bring it to conclusion in manner that is as safe as possible for the deputy, innocent citizens and the person being detained. Sworn personnel are authorized to use department-approved control techniques and/or authorized equipment for resolutions of incidents as follows (Use of Control 4020.00):

• To stop potentially dangerous and unlawful behavior
• To protect the deputy or another from injury or death
• To protect subjects from injuring themselves
• In the process of effecting a lawful arrest when the subject offers resistance.

Deputies are required to receive ongoing training on all weapons issued, which includes demonstrating proficiency. Our agency uses a simulator called Laser Shot, which is a scenario based trainer. This is interactive training that requires the deputy to use their training to make the right split-second decision on whether force is necessary to control the scene. There are a variety of scenarios, and the simulator responds based on the way the deputy handles the situation. This scenario based training is also offered in the civilian SAFE course and a demonstration is available in the Citizens Academy. We strongly encourage citizens to attend SAFE firearms training, the Citizens Academy (link below), and/or conduct a ride-along with a deputy before making any assumptions about how deputies typically handle difficult situations.

All use of force incidents requires thorough documentation in the narrative of the incident or offense report. Any time an intermediate weapon or an incapacitating response is required, the deputy must complete a Response to Resistance report. Additionally, this report must be completed any time an injury to the subject occurs that is a result of the deputy’s actions during the subject’s the resistance. The reports are approved and forwarded through the deputy’s chain of command for review.

The Internal Affairs Inspector completes an annual review of all documented use of force incidents to ensure agency policies and procedures were properly followed. All of this information is submitted to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. When deadly force is used, a thorough, independent investigation is conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Once their report is completed, the State Attorney’s Office reviews the findings and decides if any criminal charges are appropriate. Once the State Attorney completes their review, the case is turned over to Internal Affairs to determine if agency policies and procedures were properly followed, even if the other agencies find that no laws were broken.

In 2019, our agency made 5,403 physical arrests and completed 1,181 Baker Act reports. Deputies used some level of force in 59 incidents; 51 times in criminal arrests and eight times when taking a subject in custody under the Baker Act. Force was used in .87% of criminal arrests and .67% of Baker Act incidents. Therefore, to put it another way, when someone was taken into custody in 2019, more than 99% of the time, no force was necessary, which is amazing when you consider that no one wants to be taken into custody.

In addition to training in defensive tactics, our deputies are required to attend Crisis Intervention Training. This is a 40-hour course designed to teach deputies how to communicate and de-escalate situations with persons who may be in crisis. They are also constantly taught, both formally and informally, ways to de-escalate situations. The number of times force is not necessary shows this training works.

The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office follows all guidelines set forth by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and understands the necessity to properly train in use of control, as well as Crisis Intervention Training. We continually assess training needs to improve our services to the citizens of Hernando County.

This leads to the last, and probably most important, safeguard we use to prevent excessive force. When I find that one of my deputies is not treating the public or subordinates correctly, even after all the above training and safeguards, I have a very public reputation of holding those people accountable. This, unfortunately, occasionally results in the termination of that deputy’s employment.

If anyone is genuinely committed to learning more about how deputies interact with the community and/or t would like to help foster the already great relationship between the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office and the community, we would strongly recommend attending the Citizens Academy (link below) and/or doing a ride-along with a deputy (call 352-754-6830 to leave a message for the ride-along coordinator in your area):

https://www.hernandosheriff.org/CitizensAcademy.aspx