In mid-January, Merrill natives Logan Lange, 23, and Ted Helm, 24, became the newest members of the Merrill Police Department.
The pair immediately entered the department’s rigorous Field Training program and on Feb. 17, the Merrill Foto News was granted exclusive access to observe the program in action in accompanying Lange and Field Training Officer (FTO) Matt Waid, an 8-year department veteran.
While Lange has now progressed to solo patrol, Helm will soon follow as last week marked week #7 for the UW-Stevens Point grad.
Wednesday night, the Merrill Foto News teamed up with Helm and certified Field Training Officer (FTO) Josh McCaskill. As the 5-year department veteran is quick to admit, the last four weeks of training Helm has in fact been a learning experience for both officers.
“I enjoy teaching,” McCaskill explained. “It is enjoyable having a role in training and molding new officers that I will be working with on a daily basis. In the long run, the training makes me a better officer as well. As Ted gets better and more knowledgeable, so do I. He may have a question which I may not have an answer to and we end up learning together. Law enforcement is one of those types of jobs though. Every day is a learning experience, every call is something new.”
As McCaskill further explains, the program is based on an “observe and perform” type platform and is designed specifically to equip new officers with the skills they will need to carry out their duties, one task at a time.
“The field training program is specific to properly training a new probationary officer,” he said. “If there are issues that arise during training, there are proper ways to correct those issues such as controlled scenarios.
“Probationary officers basically start the program ‘green,’ with a clean slate. The officer then undergoes various tasks which cover the whole jist of being a law enforcement officer. The training begins with phase 1 and a very low key approach. Then as we work our way through other phases, the officer is expected to be more involved and improve on his abilities.
“For instance if we cover a task on domestic violence, his first task is to evaluate how we handle those types of calls from a department investigation standpoint. Then I would like to have him observe a domestic violence case we are investigating. Once he understands the task and has observed a domestic call he’s not responsible for, the next domestic call we receive he would step in and take over while I observe and evaluate him.
“That same process applies to other tasks such as traffic stops and vehicle lockouts. As an FTO, I don’t expect anything from him until he has an idea of how to do it.”
Helm is now in the tail end of the program’s third phase according to McCaskill and is expected to transition into the fourth final phase within the next week or two. As part of phase 3, Helm is in control of every aspect of the job, from operating the patrol vehicle in his assigned area to manipulating various types of equipment in the vehicle as well as initiating vehicle contacts and investigations. McCaskill rides along as passenger, evaluating Helm and offering points of reference and tips when necessary.
“The biggest part of phase 3 is getting Ted involved in as many different types of calls as we can, which is a bit more difficult in the winter. It’s not a bad thing we live in a town where we don’t have many calls for service, but from a training aspect it can be challenging in exposing him to things.”
As part of the final phase, McCaskill will take another step back in his FTO role and accompany helm as a plain clothed officer. Although McCaskill is still on duty and serving in the capacity of a law enforcement officer, his role becomes more observatory in nature.
As Helm adds, although he had no previous law enforcement experience prior to joining the department, the department’s training program has provided him not only the tools and skills to perform his duties effectively, but a strong sense of confidence as well.
“Before joining the department, I had no law enforcement experience aside from training at the academy,” he explains. “I think I’ve come a long way since I’ve started. There’s a lot to learn, but in just the short time I’ve been here and in the FTO program, I’ve already gained a lot of confidence in what I do and learned a lot.
“The training has proven to be very interesting already. I’ve been involved in and exposed to a lot of things already and I’m learning how to deal with situations the best way possible.”
The veteran/new officer relationship became immediately apparent Wednesday night, which began with a traffic stop for speeding initiated by Helm on the city’s north side.
While Helm conducted the stop and contact with the occupants, McCaskill remained a silent observer outside the vehicle. Once back inside the vehicle, the veteran McCaskill offered tips on navigating the on-board Mobile Data Terminal (MDT), commonly known as the “squad laptop.”
Along with coaching, McCaskill also praised points of the traffic stop procedure which Helm performed particularly well.
Perhaps the most telltale moment of Helm’s progress and McCaskill’s readily apparent confidence in Helm’s ability, came just before midnight when the Lincoln County 911 Communications Center alerted the pair of a non-responsive party at a residence on the city’s far-east side.
At the time of the dispatch, the pair was in the downtown vicinity.
Without hesitation, Helm activated the patrol vehicle overhead lights and siren and despite the wet road conditions from intermittent rain throughout the evening, the pair arrived at the residence in a matter of minutes.
“Very nice driving sir!” McCaskill commented as Helm pulled the squad car to the side of the road outside the residence and parked. While en route, not one word of correction or direction was offered by McCaskill. Upon returning to the department, McCaskill explained.
“There was really no need for me to really say anything,” he said with an approving grin. “His driving was great, he remained calm and we got there when we needed to be. The key to the field training program is for officers to learn the skills and tools they need to do their jobs. Every officer will develop their own way of doing things, as will Ted. But the bottom line is for officers to do their jobs and do them well, how they get there is up to them.
“I’ve enjoyed watching Ted’s development into a very skilled and knowledgeable police officer. We as a department have been very blessed with our new hires. Each has proven to be a great asset to our department and I have no doubt they will continue to be for years to come.”
When asked of any particular point of his training that has stood out, Helm cites a recent domestic disturbance call.
“This past weekend we responded to a domestic disturbance which was the first call I handled completely on my own,” the 24-year-old explains. “It was a pretty straightforward case. The victim displayed injuries consistent with their account of what had occurred. Even though the suspect denied being physical with the victim, between the injuries, interviews with witnesses from fellow officers and my own interview with the victim, it became clear the suspect was the primary aggressor and she was taken into custody.”
When asked of the experience and handling an investigation on his own for the first time, Helm credits the training he has received.
“I wasn’t really nervous at all. Even though it was my first call where I was the primary officer, I had the help of other officers, which was great. They were there for whatever help I may have needed. I think the biggest reason why I was so comfortable was due to the training I received, which helped me to build confidence like I mentioned before. That’s what field training is all about, helping to prepare me to handle a variety of calls in a variety of situations, just like that one.”