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Police Practice

Police Practice Training Mexican Police Officers and City Council Members The West Texas A&M University Model

Police Practice
Training Mexican Police Officers and City Council Members
The West Texas A&M University Model

By Harry Hueston, Ph.D. 

West Texas A&M UniversitySan Miguel de Allende, Mexico
West Texas A&M University San Miguel de Allende,
Mexico


Since 2005, members of the College of Education Study Abroad Program at West Texas A&M University (WTAMU) in Canyon have traveled to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Faculty and students in the WTAMU Criminal Justice Department also have visited San Miguel de Allende to study the Mexican criminal justice system. As a result of these programs, criminal justice faculty members have worked with San Miguel de Allende’s training director and police chief to create an exchange program for officers in San Miguel de Allende; the first exchange occurred in August 2010. The author offers insight into developing, implementing, and evaluating the training of police officers, as well as city council politicians, from San Miguel de Allende.

Trainees processing fingerprints at the Randall County, Texas, Sheriff's Office Crime LaboratoryClassroom training by PANTEX personnel on building security
Trainees processing fingerprints
at the Randall County, Texas,
Sheriff’s Office Crime Laboratory
Classroom training by PANTEX
personnel on building security


Developing the Training Agenda

During the summer of 2010, the WTAMU dean of education; two criminal justice professors; one Amarillo, Texas, Police Department SWAT commander; and a warden from the Texas State Prison’s Clements Unit discussed developing an exchange program between WTAMU and San Miguel de Allende’s police department and city council. San Miguel de Allende’s assistant police chief and a group of city council members presented various needs to the WTAMU professors visiting the city. As a result, the San Miguel de Allende police administration and city council members inquired about the possibility of their police officers and a few city council representatives traveling to WTAMU for a 1-week, intensive training program in August 2010. Endorsing this concept, the WTAMU dean of education and members of the criminal justice department identified topics to meet the needs of the department as defined by the assistant chief. In follow-up conversations with San Miguel de Allende city council members, the training agenda was revised to include additional sessions to meet the needs of the council members in charge of the city’s public safety and victim services.

  • Community policing
  • Special weapons use and firing opportunities
  • Dignitary protection
  • Organization and structure of police departments (city, county, state, and university)
  • Role of the local district attorney
  • Visits to and reviews of the regional police academy
  • SWAT
  • Gang recognition
  • Understanding of the U.S. criminal justice system
  • Prison and county jail operations
  • Prisoner tracking
  • Crime scene investigation techniques
  • Emergency center operations
  • Building and parking lot security measures

Facing the Challenges
Bringing international visitors to WTAMU presented challenges. The participants needed a visitor’s visa from their government to enter the United States, as well as permission from the Texas A&M University System (TAMUS). With the support and endorsement of the dean of the education department and the WTAMU president, TAMUS granted permission. A TAMUS legal
department liability release form was translated into Spanish and signed by each Mexican guest prior to participation in the intense training schedule.

 Training Schedule for Visitors from San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Sunday

4:00 p.m.

Arrive in Amarillo
Dinner at a local, well-known restaurant
Hotel check-in

8:00 p.m.

Orientation

Monday

7:30 a.m.

Breakfast at the hotel

8:30 a.m.

Travel to Clements Prison Unit

9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.

Tracking demonstration and participation, prison gang orientation, and update by Clements Criminal Investigations

12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m.

Lunch at the prison

1:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Visit various police agencies, beginning with an Amarillo College Police Training Academy and staff presentation

3:30 p.m.

WTAMU Police Department site visit

6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.

Cookout with students (invited current and former students for discussions and updates on pending changes in the criminal justice system and the roles of police and district attorneys in Mexico)

8:30 p.m.

Hotel

Tuesday

7:30 a.m.

Breakfast at the hotel

8:30 - 4:00 p.m.

Amarillo Police Department firearms range, SWAT participation, shoot house, and weapons training and tactics

6:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m.

Baseball game

11:00 p.m.

Hotel

Wednesday

7:30 a.m.

Breakfast at the hotel

8:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.

Amarillo Police Department dignitary protection, communications
center, crime prevention (student participation)

11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

Lunch

1:00 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Community-oriented policing, emergency operations center, gang
orientation and training (student participation)

4:00 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.

Hotel

6:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m.

Dinner and play

11:00 p.m.

Hotel

Thursday

7:30 a.m.
                           

Breakfast at the hotel

8:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.

Lecture on building security, protection, and other security issues by security managers of a large Texas facility that maintains the safety and security of the nation’s nuclear weapons (student participation)

11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.

Lunch

12:30 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Randall County Sheriff’s Department tour and presentation, including jail and patrol operations, communications, helicopter tour, and crime laboratory exercises (student participation)

6:00 p.m.

Dinner

8:00 p.m.

Hotel

Friday

7:30 a.m.

Breakfast at the hotel

8:30 a.m. - 10:30 a.m.

District Attorney James Farrin, explanation of local court practices, role of the district attorney’s office, and relationship with police on crime scene investigation and prosecution (student participation)

10:30 p.m. - 12:30 p.m.

Judge John Boyd, retired court of appeals judge, explanation of the U.S. criminal justice system (student participation)

12:30 p.m. - 1:30 p.m.

Lunch

1:30 p.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Homicide scene. This is a homicide class presentation where the police officers/guests get involved in handling the criminal investigation of a homicide. These actions include crime scene photography; video; and location, documentation, and collection of evidence. The use of blood collection and latent print collection also is included. Event is scheduled in a WTAMU classroom (student participation).

6:30 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.

Awards dinner at a local museum

9:30 p.m.

Hotel

Sunday


1:35 p.m.

Depart Amarillo


Once the visa and liability issues were resolved, numerous logistical details related to plans for visits and discussions with the local law enforcement community to implement the final training schedule were addressed. Specifically, the professors coordinated activities or scheduled visits with representatives of the Clements Prison Unit; Texas Department of Public Safety; Randall County Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney’s Office; SWAT, gang, and bomb squads of the Amarillo, Texas, Police Department and city Emergency Operations Center; Panhandle Regional Police Training Academy; Texas Court of Appeals; a large Texas facility that maintains the safety and security of the nation’s nuclear weapons; and WTAMU Police Department. A criminal justice professor contacted each agency via letter, then followed up with several phone calls. In addition, the Clements Unit warden, the SWAT commander, and other specialty teams of the Amarillo Police Department assisted in coordinating the various functions in each of these large facilities. A final training schedule resulted from the dedicated efforts of many individuals who made numerous contacts to adjust times, locations, and visits.

The international visitors enjoyed cultural experiences and activities unique to the Panhandle region of Texas. Because the majority of the visitors never had been to the United States, the events reflected the local flavor of the region:

  • cookout with faculty and students who visited San Miguel de Allende during the past several years as part of the study abroad program;
  • attendance at a baseball game featuring a local team in Amarillo;
  • dinners at well-known, local restaurants;
  • attendance at a musical drama performed in an outdoor amphitheater; and
  • visits to local shopping areas.

Evaluating the Results
Because this was the first time WTAMU implemented an exchange program of this nature and duration, it received a great deal of media interest. Two of the three local television stations requested interviews in which one criminal justice professor and several Mexican police officers and councilwomen participated. The local Spanish-speaking television station also conducted an extensive interview with the assistant police chief, city council members, and the WTAMU criminal justice professor coordinating the exchange activities. Area newspapers published articles on various segments of the training, as well as numerous pictures of the Mexican guests engaged in classroom training activities.

Trainees under the state of Texas seal in the supreme court
Trainees under the state
of Texas seal in the supreme court

During the week, debriefings were held to ascertain if the training programs met the expressed needs of the San Miguel de Allende police officers and city council members. The criminal justice faculty sought input directly from participants to gauge their learning comprehension and to answer questions about any of the topics. They demonstrated their learning accomplishments at one of the SWAT training sessions. On the second training day, the Amarillo SWAT team began an all-day session with participants. In the morning, they had the opportunity to shoot a variety of sniper rifles, automatic weapons, and handguns. During the handgun training, the SWAT team directed each person to shoot at a paper target, aiming at the square in the middle. During this timed exercise (one bullet for every 10 seconds), everyone’s shots were clearly outside the square or off the silhouette. The SWAT team immediately noticed that the officers lacked sight picture, trigger squeeze, and proper sight alignment (front and rear sighting). Once these issues were discussed and new strategies were applied and practiced, officers’ scores rose by 100 percent during follow-up timed exercises. Next, the SWAT team moved the participants to exercises that involved shooting metal targets. Again, the officers and officials practiced their sight picture, alignment, and trigger squeeze, successfully hitting over 90 percent of the targets in under 30 seconds. The improvement and understanding by the participants continued numerous times during more training sessions.

The use of a translator was another important factor in the program’s success. The translator was critical in helping the Mexican officers and officials become comfortable in their new environment. The bilingual, nontraditional students previously had participated in the summer study abroad program in San Miguel de Allende. The translator possessed exceptional interpersonal skills and had interacted with many of the police officers and city council officials while she was in San Miguel de Allende. She bonded easily with the officers and officials and made them feel comfortable by explaining the activities for each day, encouraging participants to ask questions on topics they did not understand, and assisting instructors with their questions. At times, the translator and guests were comfortably laughing and joking about the area, Panhandle geography, and other cultural nuances.

San Miguel de Allende police officers viewing the Armarillo Police Department’s SWAT vanSan Miguel de Allende police officers handling an  automatic rifle used by the WTAMU Police Department
San Miguel de Allende police
officers viewing the Armarillo
Police Department’s SWAT van
San Miguel de Allende police officers
handling an automatic rifle used by
the WTAMU Police Department


One unintended but critical area of learning resulted during the training: The two city councilwomen learned a great deal about the complexity of the job their officers face every day. The council members also received practical hands-on experience shooting weapons, observing equipment in police vehicles, and learning techniques used to investigate a homicide scene by taking photographs and latent fingerprints and collecting evidence. Both officials commented on how much they learned and how grateful they felt to their officers performing duties in San Miguel de Allende.

The training also highlighted the San Miguel de Allende Police Department’s funding challenges. The economic plight with regard to salary, equipment, training, and preparation for violence was a main topic of conversation during most of the training discussion sessions. Budget concerns are one of the biggest problems facing the San Miguel de Allende Police Department.

Conclusion
The summer 2010 exchange program between West Texas A&M University and the San Miguel de Allende Police Department and city council obviously was a success. The WTAMU Provost College of Education dean, faculty in the criminal justice department, and all police executives and criminal justice officials involved believe this exchange program could serve as a model for similar ones in the future. As WTAMU criminal justice faculty members continue to travel with students to San Miguel de Allende each year, they hope a new group of officers and city council officials will visit the campus for another exchange program.


Dr. Hueston, a retired police chief, is an associate professor of criminal justice at West Texas A&M University in Canyon.