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East Texas officers' training focuses on less-lethal weapons

By Sarah Thomas sthomas@news-journal
March 6, 2013 at 11 p.m.


HENDERSON - A law enforcement training exercise ended Wednesday with officers putting together a puzzle inside a cloud of noxious gas.

Twenty law enforcement agents from surrounding states, including Rusk County sheriff's deputies and Henderson police officers, took part in the less-lethal weapons training, which organizers said is vital to officer and community safety.

"Ninety-nine percent of what we do is train for that 1 percent when we have to employ it, and that's the 1 percent we hope never happens," said Sgt. David Roberts of the Rusk County Sheriff's Office.

Wednesday's training began in the classroom, with instruction on the use of chemical agents to combat barricaded offenders and manage crowds.

By afternoon, the training moved to the Rusk County firing range, where the less-lethal tactics were put into action.

Demonstrations included chemical weapons such as CS gas - or tear gas - handball grenades and colored smoke.

"If you're in a building where that stuff (CS gas) is tossed in, you're going to experience tearing and your eyes are going to want to swell shut," said Rusk County Sheriff Jeff Price, who observed his officers as they took part in the training.

Price added that any part of the body that is moist will begin to burn as the tear gas sticks to those areas.

"This stuff is a real fine powder, finer than baby powder. It can permeate Saran Wrap - that's how fine it is," he said.

It was a cloud of CS gas deployed into a makeshift tent that gave the officers their final challenge of the day.

The officers donned gas masks and entered the tent where they had to complete a series of tasks before they were allowed to exit.

Their handguns were disassembled and placed in three boxes inside the tent.

They had to enter the tent, find the pieces of their weapons, reassemble them, rack them and come out of the tent.

Roberts said the tent exercise gets officers to rely on senses other than sight.

"Imagine having a mask on and gloves and still having to fire your pistol accurately," Roberts said. "The better we train, the better we are."

The four-day course began Monday and was designed to cover the use of OC gas (pepper spray), CS gas (tear gas), smoke bombs and impact-munition, including bean bags and rubber bullets.

The officers Monday were required to experience the effects of pepper spray on the body, which Roberts said is vital training for one-on-one interactions with offenders.

"We use OC gas quite a lot. If I use it on you and we are fighting, are you the only one it's going to affect? We have to be able to understand what it's going to do to our body so we can still manage to subdue the offender," Roberts said.

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