VALHALLA, N.Y. – More than 80 officers from every Westchester County police department were summoned to Valhalla’s Westchester Community College Wednesday morning to break up a “peaceful demonstration.”
Several teens were seen in handcuffs but they weren’t arrested because it was all part of the county’s full-scale staged Mutual Aid exercise and everyone “arrested” was actually a Westchester County Park ranger volunteer helping the police. The required annual exercise helps police officers keep up valuable skills and this year police opted to do a full-scale mock protest that mimicked similar protests seen in recent years with the Occupy Wall Street movement, said Westchester County Police spokesperson Kieran O’Leary.
Officers from every one of the county’s 30-plus police departments participated in the Wednesday drill that involved a mock protest on WCC’s baseball fields and officers “being called in to respond” using tactics that would occur in a mutual aid response.
“I think a lot of people think that when there’s an incident, police from another town show up, hop out of their cars and wade into the crowd, but it’s not like that,” O’Leary said, adding that the practice helps multiple departments learn how to coordinate with each other. “With the mutual aid situation, agency doesn’t matter. So you can be an Eastchester sergeant in a squad with a state trooper from Hawthorne, an officer from Scarsdale and another from Bronxville. It’s important for it to be choreographed and unified despite the fact that there are dozens of departments responding.”
Cortlandt Manor resident Dylan Stewart, 21, was one of the protesters “arrested” during the event and said he volunteered because he wanted to see first-hand how police would respond to large-scale situation.
“I thought the police did a really good job handling it,” Stewart said. “Their formations were good and they did a nice job of getting us to calm down or either getting us to leave. They made the arrests in a professional way and handled the situation really well.”
Officers and volunteers were asked to pretend that the staged event was occurring on private property and the protesters were refusing to leave the area, O’Leary said.
“There are always lessons to be learned from major events and situations involving police and this year we wanted to focus on those large-scale incidents like Occupy Wall Street,” O’Leary said. “One of the problems that arose in those real situations was people were being taken into custody without ID and refused to identify themselves and weren’t properly processed so they were never charged.”
Following the mock protest, arresting officers had to report to a County Police booth and practice processing those arrested to ensure that charges could be made in the court system.
“What we’ve seen happen in other incidents around the country is that one officer will see the crime but another takes the person into custody and that makes filing charges later almost impossible and the person arrested has to be released,” O’Leary said. “What our officers learned today is to make sure the arresting officer goes through the process and they get photographs and fingerprints. It’s little things like that that are so important for good police work.”
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