Citizens’ Police Academy 8: Use of Force

This is the eighth of nine entries in a column about reporter Ethan Fowler’s participation in the Bainbridge Island Police Department’s Citizens’ Police Academy.

Everything that you’ve learned or watched on a TV police drama you need to “wipe away” from your memory, Officer Trevor Ziemba emphatically told the Citizens’ Police Academy participants at the start of a recent class.

“This is just my job,” said Ziemba, who has more than 20 years of police experience and is the Bainbridge Police Department’s field training officer. “This is just a uniform I put on. I do everything in my day you do. I’m not a robot. I’m just a dad. I live on the island and have two kids.”

Ziemba talked about the use of force with Officer Jeff Benkert, who has 12 years of experience. Ziemba said he has 450 hours in police use of force and defensive training that’s not involved in shooting. He’s learned control holds, impending tactics, using a baton, pepper spray, neck restraints and ground survival.

Unfortunately, during their careers Ziemba said he and Benkert have known 26 police officer friends that have been “murdered” in the line of duty with most of those deaths happening to Washington state officers.

“We must be vigilant, prepared and motivated not to get an emotional reaction when someone yells at us,” Ziemba said. “There’s nothing I can do to train to take me away from being a human. I’m very educated. I’m not a guy who was bullied in high school. Most of our (society’s) contacts with law enforcement are negative, (such as) speeding, death in the family or crimes.”

Ziemba said an officer’s use of force is lawful under six conditions, according to the Revised Code of Washington 9A.16.20.

“The necessary force law states you must do what’s ‘reasonable,’” said Ziemba, the BIPD’s crisis interventionist officer.

Benkert said police officers must be prepared at all times. He talked about watching people’s body language. For example, he demonstrated that someone who wants to fight likely will go into a “fighting stance,” where they drop one leg and a side of the body behind the other. They may also clench their fists and teeth.

“Every fight a cop is in is a gunfight,” Benkert said. “Seventy percent of officers shot in the field are shot by their own gun in the head. A fist fight can cost your life. Action is faster than reaction.”

Added Ziemba: “I have to see those precursors, so I can fight for you and fight for another day.”

The two police officers then put on a disturbing YouTube video that showed two police officers being “murdered” by a suspect who they had pulled over. They followed that video with another one where a different officer in a similar situation was pulling over a guy driving a truck on a freeway. The officer noticed that the driver had a gun when the suspect pulled off the highway and was ready when the guy stepped out of the vehicle with a gun and started firing.

“It’s not the movies,” Benkert said.

Benkert said police follow what’s called the OODA Loop, which was developed by U.S. Air Force Col. John Boyd. Officers are trained to first observe, then orient, decide and act.

“We constantly go through scenarios,” Ziemba said. “We teach our officers to act because no action is never good. I don’t care if I’m shot in the face or head, (I’m) not dead yet. I’m not going to give up on myself. When we shoot someone, we train that they may not fall.”

The following Saturday, Citizens’ Police Academy participants got to experience some of the use of force tactics they learned about. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend this event, as well as a Saturday class visit to the county jail, dispatch center and coroner, but I heard both were quite good.


About Ethan Fowler

Ethan Fowler has more than 20 years of journalism experience with 19 years of daily and weekly newspaper experience covering news, features and sports, as well as being an editor for 14 of those years. He has won several writing awards over the years in Washington state, Virginia, Texas and Georgia, including award-winning investigative journalism. Fowler was paid by the Review & Herald Publishing Association in 2009 to co-author a book, "Brushed Back: The Story of Trevor Bullock," with his wife. The book details the real life of a top minor league pitcher in the Philadelphia Phillies organization and his Christian faith. "Brushed Back" has sold more than 2,000 copies since its release.