The participation of the Clearwater Police was geared towards educating the public on crime prevention, increasing awareness of police activities and letting the public know that they can do something about public safety in their own areas. How? By partnering with the police to form Neighborhood Watch groups.
The interactive demonstration “walking in an officer’s shoes” began with strapping on a 40-pound duty belt and a bullet proof vest. This routine gear includes cuffs, flash light, an impact weapon (a PR 24, formerly known as a billy club), walkie-talkie as well as a Smith and Weston 40 caliber handgun, not to mention a Taser (a weapon that fires darts attached by wires to batteries, causing temporary paralysis). The question arose: “Do police officers wear all this equipment when on duty day in and day out?” The answer was an emphatic, “yes!”
The “walk in the shoes” demonstration effectively conveys the perils and decision making that officers may face in the course of their duties to “serve and protect.” One member of the public summed up his experience after participating in the simulation in this wise: “I have a better idea of what police go through. Even though I knew the demonstration was a fake, it was intense. I was having trouble controlling the fear in my gut. I can’t believe how much went through my head in just three minutes.”
The SWAT and Emergency Response Team was also on display. The ERT consists of highly trained specialists with an emphasis on crowd control and disaster relief. The Clearwater ERT has the distinction of being the model ERT unit in Florida -- with the responsibility of training other ERT units throughout the state. One officer who described himself as “the gas guy” provided a glimpse into the world of ERT training. There are seven different types of gases available for use in riot control. During his training he was subjected to each of these chemical agents, including CS gas which attacks the mucous membranes. It takes a special type of person to be willing to be gassed every day for a week to serve the public good.
How effective is the ERT? Very. Recently, a large and dangerous mob assembled in a particular area in Clearwater and posed a threat to public safety. Well, the bad guys got an idea of what’s in the ERT arsenal. As soon as the unit appeared, the mob called it quits and dispersed.
The evening’s event was sponsored and hosted by Target and co-organized by Target employees and the Clearwater Police. As a Target representative stated, “This event is designed to promote secure communities and public safety. On behalf of Target I’d like to thank Sergeants Torres and Stewart of the CPD for their assistance in organizing and putting on this event. We also appreciate having the Florida Highway Patrol here as well.”