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Police Rethink New Exercise Due to Injuries : Law enforcement: Six officers were hurt during a weaponless defense program last month. Training method uses a padded foam suit during a one-on-one confrontation.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Alhambra Police Department is having second thoughts about a new method of police training that last month resulted in injuries to six officers, including one who suffered concussion-like symptoms and another who broke his toe.

Known as weaponless defense training and used in Alhambra for the first time last month, the method is supposed to simulate a confrontation between a suspect and a police officer. Chief Russell Siverling said he may drop the method or modify it.

About 80 officers took turns playing suspect and police officer for each minute-long exercise, in which the “suspect” dons a padded foam suit, known as a “red man” because of its color. The suit is supposed to absorb blows from the advancing officer, who carries a practice baton made of material that is lighter than a real baton.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department lent Alhambra two foam suits for the red man exercise, which also is used by other departments, Alhambra police said. The Sheriff Department’s Advanced Training Bureau, which conducts the red man suit exercise as part its training, allows only authorized instructors to wear the suit and play the role of suspect, a sheriff’s official said. While instructors have become bruised, no one has ever reported feeling dizziness or concussion-like symptoms, the official said.

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Alhambra Sgt. Kevin Sampson, who oversees training programs, described the setup as “a wrestling ring without the posts” and said it is essential to teaching officers how to use an appropriate level of force.

“We’re trying to develop a more confident officer,” he said.

But in one case, the practice baton “got in between” gaps in an officer’s protective headgear, hitting his bare head and leaving him with a bump, Siverling said. The officer, whom police authorities would not name, was treated March 4 at St. Luke Medical Center in Pasadena and released, Alhambra Capt. Al Solomon said.

Another officer also was hit on the head by the baton, Solomon said. A third officer was bruised in the chest area after receiving a baton blow on his left rib cage. A fourth broke his toe from slipping on the mat during the exercise.

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A fifth officer sprained her ankle, and a sixth experienced concussion-like symptoms two days after his March 4 red man exercise.

The red man exercise came at the end of a mandatory daylong training course for Alhambra officers held at Eaton Canyon Rifle Range in Pasadena.

There were only two injuries reported during the entire training day that were not related to use of the red man, Solomon said.

“That’s too many people getting injured,” Siverling said. “Either the device wasn’t protective, or the guys were getting out of hand. (The red man suit) usually can accept strikes and blows, but people can be pugilistic with one another.”

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Sampson defended the one-on-one method, saying that training without the red man “leaves an individual with a level of proficiency below what is demanded in a complex environment. If we don’t train in a realistic sense, we would be leaving sworn officers in a really precarious situation.


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