Hundreds turn out for Ann Arbor Police Department's open house
Patrolman John Pear prepares to take his turn in the rappeling demonstration.
By JANICE LEARY
NEWS SPECIAL WRITER
The officer, clad in military-like fatigues, rappeled down the side of the building while two assistants gripped the rope from below. Bouncing his feet off the building, the man descended the six stories in seconds.
All in a day’s work for officer Frank Kopasz, a member of the Ann Arbor Police Department’s Special Tactical Unit.
The officer’s descent from the roof of City Hall was among the demonstrations offered Sunday during the police department’s open house. The department estimated that more than 600 people turned out for the 4 1/2 hour event, its first open house in 20 years.
In addition to watching the tactical unit’s routines, visitors toured the department’s offices in City Hall and stopped outside at tables displaying items ranging from police weapons to counterfeit money.
The rappeling demonstration was not merely for show, according to Capt. Richard DeGrand, tactical unit commander. It was a simulation of an action the unit could take if there were a hostage-taking incident in the sixth-floor courtroom of 15th District Court.
If a hostage-taker barricaded the two doorways leading to the sixth floor, DeGrand said, officers could rappel from the roof and enter through a window, taking the hostage-taker by surprise.
“The theory behind the unit is to contain, isolate and negotiate with the bad guy,” he explained. Unit members ensure that the “bad guy” can’t leave the building and that no one else can come in. Meanwhile, the department’s six-member negotiating team tries to defuse the situation.
Richard Blake, a negotiating team member and downtown foot patrol officer, said the group responds to three types of situations: hostage takings, threatened suicides, and barricaded gunmen. At least three negotiators are sent to each incident — one as primary negotiator, one as a back-up, and a third to relay information to and from the Special Tactical Unit.
While Blake was demonstrating the team’s “hostage negotiating phone” and other equipment, Detective Charles Ghent was telling visitors how the department’s polygraph machine works.
Ghent said the 164-member police force is one of the few of its size in Michigan that has a polygraph machine. He administers about 200 tests annually.
“It’s only a tool, to let prosecutors and detectives know where to go on a case,” Ghent said, explaining that the department uses the machine only in criminal investigation cases. The results of polygraph tests, which are taken voluntarily, are not admissible in Michigan courts, he said.
While a detective asks questions, the machine tracks the subject’s breathing pattern, heart rate, blood pressure and skin conductivity.
Although the polygraph machine has been shown to have an error rate of 7 to 8 percent, Ghent said, it often is more reliable than visual identifications of suspects, which are wrong 40 percent of the time.
The idea for the open house surfaced while the department was going through its national accreditation process earlier this summer, Chief William Corbett said.
“We thought it would be a great opportunity to have our community get acquainted with our department,” he said. The event also was designed to dispel some of “the mystique that surrounds our occupation,” he added.
It also may have persuaded some visitors to pursue a career in law enforcement. According to Officer Ted Bailey, a couple of people stopped by the Training Section’s table and inquired about joining the force.