By: Jimmy Watt
Public Information Officer
(Walhalla, SC)——————Jeff Underwood, Captain of the Road Patrol Division of the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office, was one of several officers from around the country featured in a recent article in Police Magazine concerning law enforcement officers requesting or not requesting the need for back-up.
The article, written by Dean Scoville, was titled “Alone Against All Odds,” which was published on June 24th. The article dealt with the reluctance sometimes for officers to request back-up in certain situations due to a fear of being ridiculed by other officers or thinking in their mind that they may be considered not tough enough.
The article mentioned the passing of Oconee County Sheriff’s Office deputy Bill Schuck, who died in February of 2010 after trying to free his car that was stuck in the mud after turning down a dirt road looking for a suicidal male. Schuck called his wife to report the situation but said he was too embarrassed to ask for assistance.
After dispatch did not hear from Schuck for hours, a secondary search was initiated in which Schuck was found dead pinned against a tree behind the front part of his vehicle as it rolled forward while Schuck tried free it. The 26 year old deputy left behind a wife and unborn child.
According to Captain Underwood, Scoville normally writes an article called “Officer Down,” which focuses on officer shootings, for example. But after speaking with Underwood and discussing the circumstances of the death of Deputy Schuck, Underwood said the focus of Scoville’s article changed.
“He (Scoville) liked the thought of doing a different type of article related to officers having to do a lot of things by themselves,” according to Underwood. “He went ahead and got several more stories similar to it.”
After the incident, the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office made changes in protocol in regards to dispatch doing roll calls on deputies, especially those on night shift, and improvements in GPS capabilities. In fact, dispatchers routinely check on officers who are out on calls. Underwood says these protocols were enacted after Deputy Schuck’s death to try to make sure that a similar incident did not happen for officer accountability and safety.
“With the digital radio’s being implemented, they can be GPS pinged if the need arises to get the officer’s whereabouts,” according to Underwood. “Night shift starting at midnight does a roll call every hour on the hour checking to see if all the officers are okay. If an officer does not speak up, then they (officers and dispatchers) immediately begin calling cell phones and start looking for them.”
“The message that has been communicated throughout ever since then is ‘when in doubt, get someone to help you out,’” says Underwood. “We don’t want them to ever be afraid to ask for help.”
There are times, according to Underwood, where officers may have to go it alone, such as during active shooter situations, where a single officer may have to face multiple armed suspects.
“You have to assess every situation and we are asking officers as reasonably as possible not to take any unnecessary risks by themselves,” says Underwood.
Captain Underwood makes it a point to remind those road patrol deputies that he supervises that he has to ask for help from his supervisors as well and if they are ever in a situation where there is a possibility that something could go wrong, then don’t be afraid to ask for help because those officers who do will not be ridiculed. Underwood also believes that more emphasis being placed on seeking help on other officers has them thinking ahead more as they approach calls and helps in prepositioning officers to respond.
All 33 road patrol officers with the Sheriff’s Office are now wearing the TASER AXON Flex system cameras and Captain Underwood believes that having another “set of eyes” may contribute to officers asking for help more often.
“I think it would actually increase the likelihood of them asking for help,” says Underwood. “It brings about a little bit different situational awareness that they did not have before. They start thinking about the situation a little differently.”
The article can be read online by clicking on the following link: http://www.policemag.com/channel/patrol/articles/2014/06/alone-against-all-odds.aspx#.VCR7hho7XWc.email