By Michael Ferrone, CIGNA
“Good morning, please pull a card from the bowl and find your Bus Buddy.”
Program Day #2 – Law Enforcement Day – kicked off with a new concept, the Bus Buddy. As the LT class pulled a playing card and found the classmate with the same card, they became a unit for the remainder of the program day. This is a good system to establish on a day someone could potentially be forgotten at a jail.
As Bus Buddies found each other, it was clear that each LT classmate was eager to see each other again. There we no nerves, no ice breakers – just a group of people excited to continue to build relationships.
As pairings were made, each classmate also received their test results from an exam taken when they first gathered as the Leadership Tampa Class of 2017. The test questions spanned Tampa’s history – from sports, to local government, to community statistics, etc. It’s safe to say the class morale and enthusiasm took a momentary step backwards as each person learned their score. With a high score of 56%, and a low score of 12%, the entire class found solace in there being room for improvement.
7:35 AM – Sharp – the class was on the bus and in route to the Orient Road Jail. The bus was buzzing with classmates telling stories and tales of their Tampa PD or Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Dept. ride-along experiences. Some classmates controlled public protests, some found themselves in the Tampa General trauma center, and some even found themselves chasing assailants on foot. One commonality among the entire class: there is a newfound respect for the men and women that serve 12-hour shifts to protect and serve the Tampa Bay community.
“Home” to 1400 inmates, the Orient Road Jail is the oldest jail in Tampa. The class was welcomed by Major Mike Perotti and our title sponsor, Richard Grammatica, President and CEO of the Tampa Bay Federal Credit Union. Established in 1935, the Credit Union has a long relationship with first responders in the community.
Major Perotti laid the groundwork for the visit – LT would be exposed to a ‘day in the life’ of a new inmate, from booking to confinement. He also explained the difference between a jail and a prison – jail being short term, pre-trial/sentencing, and prison being longer term after sentencing. This distinction painted the jail as a very transient, possibly volatile environment due to the coming and going of the “unknowns.”
The Major and his staff are tasked first with assessing a newcomer – medically, physically, mentally, etc. – then determining whether they should be placed in individual confinement or with the general population. The general population facilities typically have a ratio of 60 inmates to one, unarmed officer. This sort of ratio of ‘good guys’ vs. ‘bad guys’ is only achievable through strong leadership and communication.
During a one-hour Q&A with the Major, questions from LT’17 varied from gang violence, drug use, crime trends, inmate treatment, legal rights, to inmate placement. One classmate was even curious about how many inmates have escaped over the years. Everyone was grateful to learn the number of escapees was zero.
A giant takeaway from this session was regarding mental health and inmate healthcare costs – both at the Orient Rail Jail and socially in the community. Over $22 million a year is spent on healthcare for inmates. More than 30% of those inmates are taking psychotropic drugs upon arrival. Though the Orient Road Jail is capable of performing onsite transfusions, assisting with treatment for chronic care conditions, and has behavioral health specialists, it is not meant to be a center for healing.
When asked about his number one priority in running the Jail, Major Perotti replied “communication.” He wants everyone communicating their hopes, dreams, fears, concerns, confusion, etc. This dialogue leads to broader perspectives and allows his team to better control situations that may arise during their shifts.
10:00 AM – LT’17 breaks into two different tour groups and the first stop was Booking. This is where detainees are initially brought before they become inmates. There was just one new detainee at the time and he was wearing a sarcastic “this is my fan of teaching smile” T-shirt. One LT class member appreciated the irony.
In Booking, a newcomer is medically assessed, patted down, and is required to forfeit their belongings. If a newcomer is intoxicated or uncontrollable, they are put in a separate room to settle down before continuing the process. The Jail also had a cell specifically for a newcomer who appears to be ill with an unknown condition. This is to prevent a new airborne illness from spreading to the general population. Jose Fourquet, of LT’17, mentioned his relief that this quarantine room exists, as it could potentially be useful in the event there is a zombie apocalypse. This was difficult logic to argue.
From Booking, the class moved to Intake. The newcomers receive a final pat down and walk through both a metal detector and an x-ray. (Fun fact: some of the most interesting items identified via x-ray have been a light bulb and a cell phone with charger!)
The general population cells house about 60 inmates. There is a large common area and a half-court basketball area. At the time, nobody was playing basketball or watching television in the common area. Nonetheless the class learned that the TV channel is decided on a ‘first come, first serve’ basis. It seemed that the default channel was the talk show “Wendy.”
The general population also has access to a number of self-improvement courses. Culinary school, sewing, anger management, AA, etc. are all voluntary programs the inmates can join.
Following the tour, the LT class had the opportunity to have lunch with both Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Dept. and Tampa PD. Each officer stood and introduced themselves and each expressed a genuine appreciation and love for their career choice. Most of the officers had been with their department for over a decade and one was just 5 days away from retirement. It takes a certain type of person to commit to a lifetime of service in this field and the LT class was noticeably appreciative that Tampa Bay has so many of those types of people.
12:00 PM – The class departed Orient Road Jail and headed to the Tampa Police Department Training Facility. They were greeted by Assistant Chiefs Dugan and Hamlin in the Defensive Tactics Room, a training room for close combat that hosted a temperature similar to a meat locker.
The Assistant Chiefs explained the next steps in our program day, beginning by informing the class they would have the opportunity to be tazed for 5 seconds. They explained the live-action simulations we would be participating in, as well as the new video training program they created to aid officers in making split-second decisions. At this point, though, most of the class seemed to be counting just how long a 5-second taze would feel while simultaneously analyzing each LT classmate to determine who would volunteer to be one of the victims. This endeavor seemed to drive much of the discussion throughout the program.
Chief Eric Ward, the Tampa PD Chief of Police, welcomed us to the facility and emphasized the great relationship TPD has with HCSO. He mentioned they have a mutual focus on three key areas – youth, crime reduction, and training – and that they partner on these areas often. Chief Ward wished the class luck in their activities and the class was on their way.
Separated into three groups, each group experienced three different exercises. The first was a video simulation designed to simulate real life events an officer may encounter. One scenario, for example, revolved around a teenager with a gun in a park. The participants were told only that they received a call about a perp with a gun. Arriving on scene, they found the teenager and asked that she drop the weapon. The teenager seemingly began arguing and pointed the gun at the participant who then fired their weapon. Upon review of the tape, the teen was not arguing but trying to explain that it was a toy gun, and was not pointing but rather trying to show that it was a fake. This is just one example of the situations experienced, each with a profound ‘gray’ area that required the participant to make a split-second, life-changing decision in the line of duty.
From there, the group moved to real-life situational training. Two officers acted as a driver and passenger during a traffic stop. An LT class member acted as the officer who pulled over the car for not having a license plate. The class ran through a number of different scenarios. Some resulted in shootings, arguments, misunderstandings, and one even ended up with the LT student’s patrol car being stolen. Again, the theme and discussion revolved around how quickly the landscape can change between an officer and their circumstance. The pressure it takes for an officer to make that decision – to communicate effectively enough to make a life or death decision – again made the LT group appreciative of our law enforcement.
Finally, the LT group was moved to non-lethal force training. They learned about pepper spray, batons, bean bag rifles, and of course, the tazer. From this group there were initially two brave souls willing to be tazed. The feeling was described as “uncontrollable muscle movements” – the displeasure was heightened by the fact that LT’17 class member Conner Lewis was screaming in their ears as he held them still.
Shortly after the second participant went, the officer offered a free T-shirt to the next volunteer. Toi Walker, free T-shirt connoisseur, stepped up to the plate and handled her tazing with grace.
As the groups came together after each experiencing the breakout activities, they were able to observe a mock SWAT mission. They looked on as a team of 8 SWAT members effectively handled a violent and dangerous man shooting at them from a building. It was a unique sight, and – once again – the LT class was taken aback by the poise, experience, and expertise that Tampa Bay law enforcement brings to our community.
The entire experience – each exercise, simulation, and speaker – highlighted the importance of training and learning new ways to approach new situations. The embodiment of this message was found on by the gun range wall, where a quote was posted in large print:
“When you’re under pressure you don’t rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training. Train well.”
4:00 PM – Closing time. As the bus took the class from the training facility back to the Chamber, the class reflected on their day. Each person seemed amazed at the day-to-day gray areas and instant decisiveness our officers are tasked with each day, both in the jail and in the field. The media paints a very bleak picture of a very tiny percentage of officers who may or may not have made mistakes. If this day did nothing else, it reinforced the age-old saying – “walk a mile in my shoes.” For Leadership Tampa 2017, it was a privilege to “simulate” what that mile looks like for Tampa’s finest.