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PD Changes Training Policy After Tragic Recruit Fatality

PD Changes Training Policy After Tragic Recruit Fatality

Virginia Pilot via YellowBrix

March 16, 2011

NORFOLK, VA – Recruits eager to join the Police Department will no longer have to endure strikes to the head – or defend themselves in training when they are exhausted.

The changes will help prevent recruit injuries and improve the department, Norfolk’s acting chief of police and a panel of experts said Tuesday during a news conference.

The new procedures follow the death of John Kohn, who was injured in training in December and is the only recruit to ever die in Norfolk police training.

A four-member panel reviewed the department’s defensive-tactics training. Acting police Chief Sharon Chamberlin announced its findings.

Other changes:

• Instructors are now receiving training from medical professionals on how to recognize head trauma.

• All recruits in upcoming academies will learn from a medical professional about head trauma and the importance of reporting it, whether it involves themselves or a fellow recruit.

• Defensive tactics training will be done in one- or two-hour segments to reduce fatigue-related injuries.

Kohn, 40, died Dec. 18, having never regained consciousness after a series of blows to the head from an instructor and a head-to-head collision with another recruit nine days earlier. Earlier in that week of training he had been knocked down by an instructor and another recruit.

Defensive tactics instructors and training academy staff attended a preliminary class on head injuries on Feb. 18, Chamberlin said. The training will continue, she said. Before becoming the department’s acting chief of police earlier this month, Chamberlin in her role as senior assistant chief oversaw the city’s police training.

“Our goal is to become better,” Chamberlin said. “We are going to take these panel findings and recommendations and reshape what we’re doing.”

Dr. Barry Knapp, an emergency room physician in Hampton Roads and the medical director for Norfolk Fire-Rescue, said the panel’s findings are an important step toward making recruits safe, while still ensuring they learn to block attacks and defend themselves.

“I think this is a tremendous opportunity for the Norfolk Police Department and specifically its training division to be a role model across the country on how one handles safely training their recruits,” said Knapp, who served on the panel.

Panel members want police staff and recruits to be aware that even minor, repetitive head trauma “can result in catastrophic outcomes,” Knapp said.

Chamberlin would not directly address questions about Leldon Sapp, the instructor who hit Kohn in the head just before he blacked out.

“I’m going to address the current panel recommendations and move forward from here,” she said. She gave similar answers when pressed by TV reporters about Sapp’s employment status, what she thought of a video showing him punching Kohn, and whether the level of force used was appropriate when considering the department’s protocol at the time.

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