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Quick response may lead to officer assaults

Friday, October 22, 2004

Recently a Cape Girardeau police officer was allegedly pushed down a flight of stairs while responding to a call. That same officer, Sgt. Kevin Orr, was earlier reportedly kicked in the head during a drug raid on North Kingshighway.

In response to some citizens' comments about a perceived need for better training, officers from several area law enforcement agencies say there's more to responding to violent calls than most people realize.

Cpl. Rick Price of the Cape Girardeau Police Department contends that officers in Cape Girardeau seem to be attacked frequently because they are able to respond quickly. Officers from Scott City and Jackson agree and add that when police arrive to a complaint, they often encounter people who may be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, desperate to get away, and often violent.

County officers may take a few minutes longer to respond to a call, but they are in no less danger.

"When we get a call, we're just a few blocks away and still in the heat of the moment," Price said.

"That has a lot to do with it," said Jackson police chief James Humphreys. "We can get there within a minute of the call. By the time the county can get there the suspect is gone."

The municipal officers all agreed that even though their personnel can get to a call fast, it does not diminish what county deputies do -- go in without backup.

"I take my hat off to the county guys," said Don Cobb, Scott City police chief. "They're out there by themselves. A deputy gets there after a fight, and he has to handle it by himself. He has to take a combative individual to jail and do it by himself probably."

While municipal officers can have backup almost instantly, it would take a county backup as long as 20 minutes to respond.

"A lot of bad things can happen in 20 minutes," Cobb said.

But bad things can also happen in an instant, and all agencies say that training is only part of the equation. Most people don't realize what officers can encounter when they respond to a call and how quickly things can go wrong.

"We spend a lot of time on training, on handling domestic violence situations and situations involving any type of crime like that," Humphreys said.

Often when responding to domestic violence situations, the officers say, the victim and the aggressor will stop fighting each other and turn on the officer.

"We don't come to somebody's house because it's a nice sunny day," Cobb said. "We're called because something has gone wrong. When you go into those situations day in and day out, the propensity to be involved in a fight greatly increases."

"It's not a matter of training," said Price of Cape Girardeau. "It's a matter of the amount of calls going on and the people we're dealing with. We're dealing with people at their worst."

Lt. Vince Diebold of the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department said experience often teaches an officer more than classroom training can. Deputies learn, he said, how to assess a situation before acting, and doing it quickly.

"What makes a difference is the mental state of the person you're dealing with and his respect for law, and how the officer handles the situation," Diebold said.

Because a county officer is often on his own for a longer time without backup, Diebold said, he might handle a situation differently than an officer who knows he'll have help within a minute or two.

"Our officers probably handle things a little more sternly," Diebold said. "We're able to do that. We put people in handcuffs quicker. If you give them time to think, they'll find ways to fight you."

Younger officers, he said, approach a situation differently from a more seasoned officer, and might get hurt more frequently. An experienced officer knows how to approach a potentially violent suspect.

"Some of that can't be trained," he said. "It has to be experienced."

lredeffer@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 160

Police assaults compared to overall assaults

CAPE GIRARDEAU

2003

Arrested for assault: 664

Arrested for assaulting an officer: 15

Percentage: 2.25

2004 (year to date)

Arrested for assault: 511

Arrested for assaulting an officer: 225

Percentage: 4.8

SCOTT CITY

2003

Arrested for assault: 22

Arrested for assaulting an officer: 3

Percentage: 13.6

2004 (estimated year to date)

Arrested for assault: 25

Arrested for assaulting an officer: 3

Percentage: 12

JACKSON

2003

Arrested for assault: 93

Arrested for assaulting an officer; 5

Percentage: 5.3

2004 figures not available

CAPE GIRARDEAU COUNTY SHERIFF

2003

Arrested for assault: 156

Arrested for assaulting an officer: 9

Percentage 5.7

2004 (year to date)

Arrested for assault: 125

Arrested for assaulting an officer: 7

Percentage: 5.6


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