When to shoot

Police academy students get lesson on pulling the trigger

Second in a series
By Theresa D. McClellan
For the Fort Bend Star

Sgt. Reggie Powell (Photo by Theresa D. McClellan)

Sgt. Reggie Powell (Photo by Theresa D. McClellan)

Melvin Oommen gingerly approached the armed gunman in the parking lot, ordering him to show his hands.

The gunman responded, “I’m not doing anything,” and again Oommen yelled, “Show me your hands!”

He slowly raised his hands including the one with the weapon and then ordered Oommen to “shoot me.”

Oommen fired the paint gun and the assailant dropped to the ground next to his car.

It was all staged. Oommen was participating in a shoot/don’t shoot exercise of the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office Citizen’s Academy under the guidance of Sgt. Jean Gobar. It was an effort to show the split-second decisions police have to make on a day-to-day basis. It was enough to get the 29-year-old student’s adrenalin pumping.

Several students in the citizen’s academy dropped their nametags in a bag in the hopes of being randomly chosen to participate in the exercise. Oommen was the winner.

Before beginning, Gobar explained that on the street they like to stay six feet away from the threat and it is imperative that hands are seen at all times for the safety of the officer and whomever the officer is approaching.

“It was pretty intense. You know what to expect but when it actually happened. That was crazy, the next time someone says, was there a gun, it makes you think,” Oommen said.

Oommen, a contractor who called himself a professional student as he just completed a degree in health and business administration, said he signed up for the academy because of the rash of police shooting incidents in the news.

“With all the things going on, the dangers and day-to-day struggles of a police officer, it’s a struggle from the time you get here to the time you leave,” Oommen said. “I also want to walk my neighborhood in neighborhood watches and know what’s going on.”

It was also a teaching opportunity for the class as not everyone in the crowd of 30 students watching from a distance saw the gunman – an out of uniform detective – slowly lifting his weapon toward the student. During the exercise, the students were positioned at least 25 feet from the incident.

“This is why we say wait until all the evidence is in before making a decision about what you see on the news,” said Major James Hines. “People are quick to say it was a bad shoot with some incidents. There can be different camera angles and if it’s a bad shoot we’ll call it a bad shoot.”

The Thursday night session was the third week of a 12-week session making citizens aware of all aspects of law enforcement. Last month they toured detention and the county jail where the county also gets paid to hold federal prisoners.

Earlier in the class, Gobar showed the use of a taser, shooting a cardboard cutout of an assailant and discussed the woes of pepper spray. All the students had a chance to get up close and personal with several aspects of the tools used by the sheriff patrol as the department presented a hands-on show and tell in the parking lot.

Students met Deputy Justin Cloud and his K9 partner Duco, a lean and mean-on-command Belgian Malinois police dog. The major joked that the deputy Cloud doesn’t bite but his dog does. He suggested those wanting to meet the dog wait for the dog to approach them and not to make any sudden moves toward the deputy.

Once the dog was comfortable, the grinning canine was leaning into the students and taking selfies. The Netherlands trained drug-sniffing dog is also used for enforcement and will bite.

As he eyed the different stations set up in the parking lot, 18-year-old student Ryan

Speziale started smiling. He wants to become a patrol deputy. He learned that he can work in the jails at that age and plans to apply in two months. His mother Vicki Speziale said she joined the classes to learn more about Fort Bend County.

They are from Virginia where the deputies took care of the jail in their community. She said seeing the varying patrol duties of Fort Bend was interesting.

“I’m learning more about Fort Bend and where I live and this is good,” Vicki Speziale said.

The department showed off its SWAT team tools including oppression grenades, multiple weapons, and an armored, $318,000 military style Bear Cat truck that they acquired in 2011 though a grant. The bulletproof vehicle carries well-armed deputies, has portholes to shoot out of, as well as a public address system and room for police negotiators.

The Fort Bend Regional SWAT truck serves five law enforcement agencies in Fort Bend and is used in hostage situations and for crowd suppression.

“We are a blessed county,” said Warrant Sgt. Reggie Powell. “As big as we are, we are quiet and I hope it stays that way.”

Hines told his students they make the department better.

“Tell your neighbors about what you are learning,” he said. “Meet us. Call us. We work 24 hours a day. If you feel like something is not right, pick up the phone and call us. That’s what we want.”

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