Amherst, UMass police give Ecuadorians ‘more options for the toolbox’ in weeklong training

  • Gear Up 2 Go founder Darin Coyle, far left, is joined by UMass Police Lt. Thomas O’Donnell, Amherst Police Officer William Laramee, Amherst Police Sgt. Janet Lopez, Amherst Police Sgt. Jesus Arocho and UMass Police Sgt. Jonathan Hall, in training members of the National Police of Ecuardo in Quito, Ecuador. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Amherst Police Officer William Laramee, UMass Police Sgt. Jonathan Hall, Amherst Police Sgt. Janet Lopez, UMass Police Lt. Thomas O’Donnell and Amherst Police Sgt. Jesus Arocho in Quito, Ecuador. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Amherst Police Officer William Laramee demonstrates handcuffing techniques to members of the National Police of Ecuador. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Amherst Police Sgt. Jesus Arocho demonstrates defensive tactics techniques to members of the National Police of Ecuador. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Amherst and UMass police officers with their counterparts in the National Police of Ecuador at the training grounds. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Members of the National Police of Ecuador in the training field. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/31/2019 1:38:21 PM

AMHERST — For local police departments, extensive training and professional development aim to ensure that officers resolve incidents in a safe manner.

Those who work in law enforcement in Ecuador, though, often lack modern policing techniques and knowledge of best practices.

To help improve the South American country’s policing, five local police officers, three from the Amherst department and two from the University of Massachusetts department, recently spent a week in Quito, Ecuador’s capital, where they trained 10 members of the Grupo de Intervencion y Rescate, the Intervention and Rescue Group of the National Police of Ecuador.

Amherst Police Officer William Laramee said the working vacation was about having their counterparts be provided the necessary skills to do better at their jobs.

“Though they are a highly selective unit, their training is primitive and inadequate,” Laramee said.

“We’re giving them more options for the toolbox,” said UMass Police Lt. Thomas O’Donnell.

O’Donnell and Laramee were joined by Amherst Police Sgts. Janet Lopez and Jesus “Ricky” Arocho and UMass Police Sgt. Jonathan Hall on the trip organized by Darin Coyle, a retired American firefighter.

Coyle runs Gear Up 2 Go, which describes itself as “a nonprofit organization that exists to train, share, equip and connect with firefighters and EMS workers in international communities, all for the glory of God.”

That organization has, over the past few years, taken groups of firefighters and EMTs to Ecuador, where the Americans show the Ecuadorian public safety professionals how to use a variety of modern equipment, as well as to learn how to better extricate victims from car crashes or perform close quarter rescues when earthquakes trap people in rubble.

But the trip by the Amherst and UMass officers marked the first time any American police have done a similar training, O’Donnell said. O’Donnell, who has led the Young Life Hampshire County group, learned about the possibility of venturing to Ecuador when he met Coyle on a separate missionary trip.

The 10 people they provided training are essentially an Ecuadorian SWAT team, getting calls into situations that a municipal police force can’t handle, or what Laramee calls “high-risk stuff” such as dealing with gun runners. But even though these members have great knowledge and skills in certain aspects of their work, such as high mountain rescues, confronting snipers and removing explosives, that is not necessarily transferrable to policing, Laramee said.

In organizing the trip, the local officers got permission to take vacation time and paid all their own expenses, including the flight to and from Ecuador. In addition, they were able to bring a small amount of simunition, the non-lethal training ammunition, along with training batons and fist suits for a defensive tactics curriculum.

As an example of where the Ecuadorian force lacked skills, Laramee said its members did not know how to use voice commands when dealing with a suspect. Without this ability, more danger comes for officers and others.

“We instructed them on how to be more in control of the situation,” Laramee said.

Another area they lacked was in how to apply handcuffs to a suspect’s wrists when making an arrest.

“They’ve never learned how to handcuff with compliance and hands behind the back,” O’Donnell said.

Although they already had set up a place on the training grounds to practice firing weapons, they had to do so with live ammunition, rather than having less expensive, and safer, simunition. “They don’t often get to train with live fire,” O’Donnell said.

After the week of training, which also included learning about ground fighting and room entry,  O’Donnell said a big scenario was developed, which involved the rescue of an officer dealing with a combatant.

Because the training was organized by a ministry, Laramee said there was a spiritual component, with each day beginning with a testimony and a prayer.

Even with all the work, the trip was a chance to experience the culture and vacation spots, including a visit to a rain forest, the Andes mountains and a tour of Old Quito where the presidential palace is located.

O’Donnell said one of the challenges was getting used to the altitude, as Quito is one of the highest capital cities in the world. The visiting officers were also tested by some of the cuisine, including guinea pig, or cuy, cow’s feet soup, and other meals with the stomach lining from a cow. But most of the food was more conventional to the American palate, such as chicken and rice dishes. 

With Ecuador using U.S. currency, the officers found it easy to make purchases, finding food to be mostly inexpensive, except for pizza.

The hope is that the 10 Ecuadorians trained will pass on their new skills and techniques to the national and local police.

“What we were able to accomplish in a week, they are getting training above and beyond municipal officers,” Laramee said.

O’Donnell said he would love to return to Ecuador to bring more knowledge directly to others in law enforcement. “My desire would be to go to more places in the country so they can get training,” O’Donnell said. 

And if the members of the National Police of Ecuador want to spend time in the Pioneer Valley, they would be welcome, Laramee said.  “We would graciously host them,” he said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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