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Police officers receive annual training to handle domestics

| Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Baldwin Borough police officers receive frequent training, including reviewing how to surround a home and respond to domestic calls, the chief said.

“All of those things are drilled into them on a regular basis,” Baldwin police Chief Michael Scott said.

The Municipal Police Officers Education and Training Commission was established in 1974 to set certification and training standards for police officers in Pennsylvania. The commission requires annual training of officers through in-service classes on topics that range from “rapid deployment” to domestic response, said Whitehall police Chief Donald Dolfi, president of the Western Pennsylvania Chiefs' of Police Association. Two of his officers were at the Baldwin incident early Sunday. Officers must, at a minimum, annually certify to use each weapon they carry, he said.

“When it comes to protecting the officer's life or protecting the life and well being of the citizens, deadly fire is permitted,” Dolfi said.

What weapons officers carried changed from the late 1990s to today because of incidents that occurred nationwide, including a massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, Dolfi said.

“We learn from them,” he said. “You always have to look at the best practices.”

Baldwin police purchased patrol rifles, an AR-15 equivalent, in 2008, Scott said.

Officers received a full day of classroom and range training on the weapons when they were added, the chief said.

Training in Baldwin starts when officers are hired, as officers are sent to a South Hills Area Council of Governments table-top class, Scott said.

Training can be intense.

“The training's constant. They're put through stressful situations to train for these situations,” Scott said.

Bethel Park police Chief John Mackey, chairman of the South Hills Area Council of Governments' chiefs committee, said most joint training with other departments has been geared toward responding to incidents in public areas, such as schools.

Upper St. Clair Police Lt. John Sakoian, who offers police training through his consulting business, Command Excellence LLC, said the Baldwin officers when responding to a domestic call, where the man was said to have a loaded weapon with children inside, were likely thinking of the Ka'Sandra Wade case — where the Larimer resident called 911, Pittsburgh police responded and left only after talking to her boyfriend through a window. Wade was found dead of a gunshot wound the next day.

“They want to make sure that mother and children are safe; they're not just going to walk away,” Sakoian said. “The law-enforcement officer has to make a decision in the split second that the door is starting to slam … what happened afterwards was just a terrible accident.”

The Allegheny County Chiefs of Police Association was revising its suggested policy for responding to domestic disputes, but it was up to each department to modify or adopt those guidelines, said association president David Laux, chief of the Fox Chapel police.

Scott said the Wade case likely was at the forefront of his officer's mind Sunday morning at the domestic call where Baldwin Sgt. Ralph Miller was shot by friendly fire.

Baldwin police held a supervisors meeting on Feb. 5 when they discussed responses to domestic calls, Scott said. They reviewed department protocols, guidelines and training.

Baldwin police always have had the procedure: “You don't leave until you make sure the person that called is OK,” Scott said.

Trib Total Media Staff writer Matthew Santoni contributed to this report. Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or shacke@tribweb.com.

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