Published by The Prince George’s Sentinel
“You’re ready to go. We’re going to put you on the line buddy,” Lt. Chris Price says to the 6-year-old holding a semi-automatic less-lethal riot gun that was nearly his height.
“That was cool,” Ethan Wollard, 6, says walking away with his dad Jason Wollard.
County residents drove golf carts in an obstacle course, examined an iRobot, aimed a “modified paint ball gun on steroids” and played “guess how many fingers am I holding up?” with a sniper on Thursday night.
The police were busy holding explosives, doing figure 8s on Harley Davidson motorcycles and showing off their Maverick-like skills as helicopter pilots.
The County’s Special Operations division hosted “SOD Day,” inviting members of the Citizens Advisory Councils to meet the team, ask questions and learn more about the work of the division’s aviation, motors, canine, tactical, traffic, marine, conflict negotiations and special services sections at the aviation hangar in College Park.
“We’re nerds with guns,” crash investigator Cpl. Scott Ainsworth said of the Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Unit.
Formed in 1988, the collision and reconstruction unit uses physics, math, geometry and an estimated $15,000 SOKKIA roadway-mapping tool to investigate vehicular homicides. It also coordinates sobriety checkpoint programs and inspects commercial vehicles.
The department responded to about 55 traffic fatalities in the county in 2012 – a significant drop from previous years, Ainsworth said.
“People can’t afford their toys,” he said, pointing to the recession’s impact on motorcycle purchases and a decrease in traffic fatalities.
More than 30 gathered at Ainsworth’s station after watching six police officers weave in and out of an obstacle course on navy blue Harley Davidson Electra Glide motorcycles that feature their name and rank.
The canine section’s Chevrolet SUVs feature personalized nametags for each Belgian Malinois or German Shepherd dog in the unit. “Zoey” adorns the No. 1256 K-9 vehicle. The police dogs are assigned names with long vowel sounds to facilitate the training process.
As part of the canine exhibition, one police dog wrestled with a man pretending to be a trespassing shooter fleeing a crime scene. The police helicopter descended to release the canine that immediately targeted the man running through the airport runway.
“That was wonderful. That was really wonderful,” a woman in the crowd said.
In another exhibition a young boy in the crowd was asked to hold up as many fingers as he wanted. Then a “sniper” said the boy was holding up two fingers. Decked out in camouflage, he finally appeared from the foliage more than 100 yards away.
Special Operations sometimes used unconventional methods to explain the division’s work, but the familiar public safety messages continually crept up.
“If you wear a seatbelt, you will survive a crash,” Ainsworth said. “I wouldn’t be doing half my wrecks.”
“Drink and drive all you want,” he said. “Wear a seatbelt.”
Then participants were challenged to drive a golf cart through a basic obstacle course lined with orange cones wearing “fatal vision” goggles that simulated different levels of intoxication.
“It’s a good lesson for me,” CAC District 1 member Michael Farley, 61, said. “Never again – until I get caught,” he joked.
The average Prince George’s County drunk driver is operating at a BAC between .12 and .15, the result of drinking six or seven beers in an hour, traffic enforcement Cpl. Michael Rose said.
“It makes you think,” county police media strategist Christina Cotterman said of the challenge to “walk the line” while wearing fatal vision goggles. “Even one drink is too many.”
The activity shows that when a person is intoxicated, even simple maneuvers become complex tasks because that person’s ability to make decisions is impaired, Rose said.
Cpl. Aaron Smith and Chief Tactical Flight Officer Brian Catlett of the Aviation Unit put on display some more high-speed maneuvers in the sky.
“This one makes me sick,” Lt. Tony Cline narrated from the podium.
Smith and Catlett performed sideways turns, an emergency descent and a reverse takeoff while piloting the MD-520 NOTAR aircrafts. The unit flies the model equipped with red LED lighting an estimated five to ten times each day, Cline said.
It does the work of 30 officers in just 3 seconds, Cline said of the aircraft.
An iRobot functions in a similar capacity as a surveillance tool for the tactical section.
“It’s an extra set of eyes without sacrificing an actual officer,” Cpl. James Dwyer said.
The tactical section executes high-risk search and seizure warrants and assists in barricade situations. It showcased explosives, shields, a ballistic helmet and a wheeled armored personnel carrier used to gain entry into second floor and third floor complexes. And a “You need help, you call the police. The police need help, they call us,” tactical section Commander Lt. Charles Magee said.
“We’re like the police department’s 911,” said Lt. Chris Price of the Special Events Unit, which deals with enforcement at FedEx Field, National Harbor and post-game Terrapin celebrations in College Park.
The Special Operation Division is “designed to enhance police operations and resolve critical incidents,” according to the county government website.
“We’re not out there on the front line,” Price said. The lieutenant presented a shotgun, pepper spray and a gas canister – as just some of the tools available to the Special Events Unit. Price said he was looking to educate the community and “decrease fear.” Like many of the police officials, Price entertained questions on everything from a senior’s concern on reimbursements at National Harbor to catching “the bad guys” as 6-year-old Nicholas Cicale posed his question.
Captain Timothy Muldoon stressed the ability to maximize special operation successes hinges on a community relationship.
“All kinds of toys were deployed in Boston,” Muldoon said of the recent marathon bombings. “It took the phone call of one citizen.”