Sheriff’s deputy holds his own at academy

For Bryan Kelly, the waiting is the most stressful part.

“It’s different for everyone,” he said. “I have a feeling I’m going to get jumped.”

Kelly, a sheriff’s deputy recruit in the Prince William Criminal Justice Academy class in Nokesville, was waiting his turn for training and evaluation in “control techniques,” the methods used to subdue suspects who are resisting arrest.

Each trainee, armed with a pepper spray canister full of water, a padded baton and a rubber gun, is required to go into a classroom that simulates a store with disruptive people in it. The recruit would be evaluated both on his judgment and skill.

As Kelly walked toward the classroom, he was approached by Sgt. Dan Hess, the academy’s basic training supervisor, playing the role of an angry store manager who asked that the officer remove three disorderly people from the store, or the manager would. When Kelly entered, he was confronted by three instructors playing the aggressive parties.

Each instructor wore “redman gear,” consisting of a face mask and foam pads to cushion the punishing blows the trainee might be forced to deliver during the exercise.

Kelly asked the men to come outside the store, at which point they became belligerent and tried to approach him. Kelly took out his baton and pepper spray and ordered the men to get on the floor with their hands behind their backs, but to no avail.

Throughout the struggle, Kelly dodged and pivoted, trying to stay away from the walls and avoid being surrounded by his opponents while always turning to keep his gun out of reach of the suspects.

As the three men swarmed him, Kelly cut loose with his pepper spray with one hand while taking broad baton swipes with the other. After less than a minute, he tried to return the empty spray canister to his belt, dropping it to the floor instead. His attackers took advantage of the momentary distraction to press the attack, and Kelly dropped his baton as well in the fracas.

Unarmed but undeterred, the recruit stepped up the intensity of his attack, throwing vicious punches until the suspects backed up and gave him some air. During the ensuing lull, an instructor standing at the side of the room tossed the baton back to Kelly.

Kelly devoted much of his effort during the encounter to keep himself, not his attackers, in control of the level of intensity. He would strike and back away, strike and back away, frequently issuing commands for the suspects to get down on the ground and put their hands behind their backs.

Kelly gave out baton strikes more sparingly than some of the other trainees that day, but he made the most of each hit, aiming for joints and putting his entire body into each swing.

“The fewer swings I take, the less use of force, the better,” he said later.

After a few minutes, Kelly finally handcuffed two of the suspects, and had a third on his hands and knees. The third suspect refused to get in the prone position until Kelly struck him one last time with his baton.

Kelly received high marks both for his ability to use force when necessary and also for his ability to show restraint while doing so.

“That’s exactly what we’re looking for,” Hess told Kelly after his practical. “You de-escalated. You know when to de-escalate, and that’s important.”

Kelly said the control technique exercise is good training because it tests the recruits’ physical ability to fight, while at the same time demanding the level of concentration and judgment needed to make the right decision in an unknown, rapidly developing situation.

In particular, he said he had to think fast on his feet when his spray ran out as quickly as it did.

“It was just something else in my hand,” he explained. “But I couldn’t use my handgun. I wasn’t justified to shoot anyone.”

This portion of the academy is an exquisite study in pain. Trainees learn how to endure pain, and how to apply it to others. But most importantly, they learn when the use of pain, or control techniques, is appropriate.

Prior to the training with multiple assailants, each recruit’s is tested on both his ability to use pepper spray, or OC, and his ability to function when the spray is used against him. Some of the trainees got a new understanding of the word “pain” when experiencing the effects of the spray.

“I learned you have to just calm yourself down, and not freak out,” Kelly said. “Your immediate reaction is to just crumple up because, oh my God, it hurts so much.”

After being hit with the spray, Kelly said, the hardest part was just to keep his eyes open as he fought off an attacker and tried to radio for help.

“I had to hold on to my radio, because that was my lifeline,” he said. “Like they told us, ‘unless you can shout from Nokesville to Woodbridge, the radio is the only way you’re going to get help.’ “

For Kelly, 24, it seems like law enforcement was always something he knew he would do. His father was a Prince William County police officer from 1975 to 1987. While majoring in criminal justice at Longwood College in Farmville, Kelly took a five-month internship with the Farmville Police Department, where he did everything from filing paperwork and working in the radio room to going on emergency calls with officers.

“I kind of earned my keep; when they saw I worked hard on the petty stuff they let me do some of the fun stuff,” he said.

When riding with officers, Kelly was responsible for calling in information and often was quizzed by the officer on what a driver might be doing wrong. The intern initiated a few stops himself, resulting in several drivers charged with driving under the influence.

Within six months of his graduation in May 2001, Kelly was hired by the county Sheriff’s Office, where he received a few weeks of field training in courtroom security and warrant service. He was then sent to the academy.

After graduation June 4, Kelly will likely be placed on courthouse duties, but he is looking forward to the opportunity to get out on the street.

Having grown up in Prince William, Kelly heard a lot about the rift between the police department and Sheriff’s Office. However, he said it is not something he has seen firsthand, and that the common training at the academy helps build a rapport between members of each agency.

“I always wondered what it would be like, being a deputy at the police academy,” he said. “From what I’ve seen the two departments have an awesome relationship, especially at the officer level.”

While he knows he could be making more money in the private sector, Kelly said there is nothing he would rather be doing.

“I don’t think you can fight what’s in your blood.”

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