Department of Natural Resources
Week 11 marked the halfway point of the 23-week Michigan Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Academy. Recruits knew the intensity would continue to challenge them physically and mentally.
Monday was spent focusing on laws that pertain to juveniles and operating vehicles while intoxicated. Every officer can expect regular interaction with juveniles and intoxicated individuals, so it’s important to understand how to manage these situations.
What started as a normal offsite run turned into an uphill, 5.5-mile training session, incorporating a series of sprints with short periods of rest.
The recruits continued with their morning law session, learning about the laws of evidence. Topics included testimony, corpus delicti (facts and circumstances constituting a breach of law), chain of custody (collecting information from a crime scene to determine what was at the scene, its location and condition) and hearsay (statements made outside of court that maybe offered as evidence during a trial or hearing to attempt to prove the truth of the matter).
After lunch the recruits received instruction to bring an extra set of clothes and safety glasses to the gym for survival tactics training. Lining up four in a row, the recruits received a burst of oleoresin capsicum (OC) spray (commonly referred to as pepper spray) into their faces – feeling the effects within seconds. Gasping for air and fighting the urge to rub their stinging, watering eyes, the recruits conducted hand and foot strikes and handcuffing techniques on a training bag.
Tuesday photo 1: The OC spray training provided recruits with a safe environment to learn what it feels like, and how to react to the side effects of, being sprayed, so they know what to expect in a real-life situation.
Tuesday photo 2: After receiving a burst of OC spray in the face, the recruits conducted hand and foot strikes and handcuffing techniques on a training bag.
Lingering effects of the pepper spray would reactivate each time the recruits’ faces became wet until it was completely washed off, making Wednesday morning’s session in the tank extra challenging.
Wednesday’s classroom session covered auto theft. Conservation Officer Shane Webster taught the recruits how to recognize signs that a motor vehicle or ORV may be stolen, along with the areas an officer likely would find a stolen automobile.
“Low-populated areas, such as public state land, are common areas that suspects ditch stolen property,” said CO Webster. “It’s likely that a conservation officer will be the first to come across a stolen automobile in the normal course of their duties.”
Sgt. Carl Schmitz, Michigan State Police detective, educated the recruits on terrorism awareness. Sgt. Schmitz discussed the threat of terrorism in the United States, teaching the recruits skills to increase their situational awareness and strategies to help recognize and react to a potential terrorist threat.
Survival tactic scenario training took place on Wednesday afternoon. Taking turns, recruits were sent to investigate a complaint about an illegal, untagged deer hanging from a tree in a front yard. The suspect became agitated – demanding that the recruit leave – and physically assaulted him or her. The interview turned into a full-blown physical altercation – a possible live-or-die situation outside of the training environment. Supervised by instructors, recruits were forced to display the survival tactic training skills they had learned up to this point – demonstrating proper strikes, escapes and techniques. Once the recruit was able to take control and subdue the suspect, the scenario concluded with the suspect being handcuffed and taken to jail.
“The academy teaches recruits about law and division policies and procedures around subject control and the use of force,” said Conservation Officer Joshua Wright. “When a recruit becomes an officer, their survival tactic skills will be randomly tested – but in real-life situations. Proficient survival tactic skills could determine whether or not they go home at the end of a shift.”
Wednesday photo 1: A recruit responds to a complaint about an illegal deer hanging in a front yard and encounters a man who becomes violent.
Wednesday photo 2: Recruits had to apply their survival tactic skills when attacked by the suspect.
Wednesday photo 3: The suspect is handcuffed by a recruit after a physical altercation about an illegal deer.
Thursday wasn’t the average physical fitness routine. The recruits worked on team-building skills while completing a variety of exercises that involved canoes and an antlered deer – two things that conservation officers lift on a regular basis.
Sgt. Brian Bacon taught recruits how to tactically use a flashlight in low-light situations. Conservation officers work all hours of the day and often receive complaints after sunset. A flashlight may seem like a common item, but it is something that a CO regularly utilizes. The recruits completed a scenario in the academy basement, where they had to search for a hiding person using only their flashlight.
On Friday morning Sgt. Damon Owens and CO Keven Luther spoke with the class about cultural and sexual harassment, and the high standards of professionalism that COs are held to. The instructors distinguished between institutional prejudice and personal prejudice, explaining the consequences of stereotyping and the psychological motivations underlying prejudice.
The recruits went through a scenario to instill their understanding of equal protection and fair treatment. In the scenario, two recruits approached a woman and man, who both appeared to be fishing. When they asked the man for his fish license, he became upset, accusing the recruits of racial profiling. In the meantime, a passerby started to livestream the event onto social media. The recruits had to peacefully resolve the situation.
Friday photo 1: Two recruits check the fishing license of a man who then accused the recruits of racial profiling, while a passerby recorded the event.
Friday photo 2: Recruits demonstrate their professionalism when a man accuses the recruits of racial profiling.