When police cadet Kelley Chase suffered a fatal head injury Oct. 12 he was participating in a demanding test of his ability to defend himself in life-or-death situations.
Chase, 38, died the morning after he hit his head on a mat and passed out while being tested on a takedown maneuver with an instructor. While it was not a violent hit, his unprotected head had hit the mat several times during the test, police Capt. Dexter Nelson said.
The state medical examiner reported Friday that Chase died of blunt force head trauma.
Chase was in great physical shape, and he was something of a mentor to younger cadets, Police Chief Bill Citty said.
A new policy will now require that cadets wear protective head gear in the self-defense course.
The fatal injury occurred while Chase, an Air Force veteran, was concluding a 78-hour course of defense training for cadets.
The course culminates with a six-minute exam during which cadets are rigorously tested by different instructors on a host of techniques. During a rotation of simulated fights, he went to the ground several times with different instructors.
“You stress them over the time period because you want to see what they've learned,” Citty said. “It lets them know even if they're tired, they can fight through it.”
Preparation is crucial for police
That kind of preparation is important for the unpredictable nature of police work.
“You have to be prepared to protect yourself,” said Sgt. Keith Cornman, a police trainer. “We don't want them to quit on the street if they're in a fight to save their life or to save somebody else's life.”
Due to the physical nature of the training, injuries are common, from bumps and bruises to strained muscles and the occasional broken bone.
When he was a patrol officer, Cornman found out the importance of this training.
He was in southeast Oklahoma City when he tried to put handcuffs on a wanted man after a traffic stop. The officer found a gun in the man's waistband.
Without using the proper technique to stabilize the man's hands and handcuff him, the encounter could have ended much differently. The skills Cornman used were among many he learned as a recruit during control and defensive tactics training, where cadets learn how to gain control over suspected criminals and protect themselves from attacks.
“If I hadn't done it specifically, like I was trained in control and defensive tactics, he would have been able to loosen his grip, spin away from me and possibly gain a position of advantage,” said Cornman, who patrolled in southeast Oklahoma City for eight years before embarking on his current assignment in police training.
The Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training, which sets Oklahoma's standards for law officers, requires 65 hours of defensive training for new recruits. The Oklahoma City Police Department provides 78 hours for its cadets.
It's a key part of the training cadets receive in the 28-week police academy, Citty said.
“These types of tactics could mean the difference in the life and death of that officer,” Citty said.
Officers learn nonlethal tactics in areas like ground fighting, how to respond to assaults, how to handcuff properly and how to block.
On the streets, officers have to quickly assess what kind of force is necessary to take a person into custody.
“The tactics they use are there to keep them from getting hurt, as well as the person they're trying to control,” Citty said.
The training has become especially important as criminals improve their own methods of fighting, said Steve Emmons, director of CLEET, pointing to a rise in the popularity of mixed martial arts as an example.
“Officers have to respond to people who may be skilled at some kind of fighting techniques,” Emmons said.
The training continually evolves; Oklahoma City instructors learn new methods every year, Nelson said.
Instructors for defensive tactics have at least two years of experience on a police force. They undergo instruction from CLEET and an apprenticeship, followed by annual training from the Oklahoma City police, Emmons said.
About 15 officers are pulled from regular duty during the 10-day course to teach defensive tactics, Citty said.