Just 20 minutes from downtown Cleveland, Ohio, the bedroom community of Brunswick Hills is home to roughly 12,500 residents. While the area sees many come and go every day due to its proximity to a major highway system, police there rarely encounter major crime.
Even so, Chief Tim Sopkovich has diligently worked to ensure the safety of both the officers and the residents of Brunswick Hills since he joined its agency 10 years ago. With decades of past police experience in Cleveland and overseas, Sopkovich has seen firsthand that the tools used by officers can make a big difference in policing outcomes.
“When I became chief at Brunswick Hills, I wanted to make sure I was testing and finding the best products out there that I could put in officers’ hands,” he said.
Brunswick Hills PD has used several tools within its less-lethal arsenal, including pepper spray. Some of it works, says Sopkovich, and some of it doesn’t.
With the desire to find new and improved technology in the less-lethal space, Sopkovich has extensively researched the products he’s used in the past and compares them to what’s emerging within the industry. Ultimately, he wants his officers to use tools that help keep everyone safe.
“Law enforcement is scrutinized on every single thing,” he said, “so I want to make sure my officers are getting the right equipment to get the job done successfully and to be properly trained on all the items and tools that are available.”
AN UNEXPECTED DISCOVERY
Although Sopkovich has his finger on the pulse of less-lethal options, it was one of his younger officers that brought Reflex Protect Tactical to his attention.
“I’m very grateful that Officer Ted Makrinos said, ‘Hey, here’s something new. Let’s try this.’ Once we started researching it, it was a game changer in putting a less-lethal piece of equipment in officers’ hands,” said Sopkovich.
Presidia Gel, a CS spray by Reflex Protect Tactical, features a fast-acting gel consistency that can be delivered from up to 15 feet away. Unlike other less-lethal options, Presidia Gel does not cross-contaminate others in the area and suspects can’t grab it from their faces and throw it back at officers.
It has pinpoint accuracy, says Sopkovich, and will instantly incapacitate someone. Yet unlike other sprays, the effects of Presidia Gel can be stopped in a matter of minutes.
“I think the most important thing is once we hit them with the Reflex Remove, they’re fine,” said Sopkovich. “If we do have to use force on people, unfortunately, that’s the job we have to do. It’s also our job to make sure we’re taking proper care of a suspect and make sure they’re OK.”
Quick decon is also important during training, he continues. After receiving their first order from Reflex Protect Tactical, Brunswick Hills PD worked with a certified trainer to experience Presidia Gel firsthand.
“When you get officers in incapacitating pain and you use the Reflex decon, they’re like ‘Oh, wow, that wasn’t so bad!’” Sopkovich explained.
THINKING BEYOND THE TOOLS
The convenience and efficacy of Presidia Gel has made a huge difference for Brunswick Hills PD officers, allowing them to de-escalate a situation and more easily make their arrest. Yet for Sopkovich, the use of this tool brings a much larger meaning.
“We have a duty to protect the citizens in our world,” he said. “That’s what we’re hired to do. We have to be accountable. We have to show the world that we are doing it in the best interest of our individuals that we have to arrest.”
He likens the use of Presidia Gel to that of body cameras, where the actions of police officers are fully transparent and demonstrate that force is being used only when necessary. “I don’t want my officers to have to use any use of force,” he said, “but the way the world is, there are going to be violent encounters.”
Sopkovich ensures officers at Brunswick Hills PD are trained to de-escalate situations in every way possible, including using unarmed self-defense and softer approaches with tools like Presidia Gel.
“I trust my officers,” he said. “I give them the proper training and I trust that, if there is a situation, they’ll be able to eliminate the threat and make sure they’re safe and other people are safe with them.”
He encourages other departments to shift away from the mindset of sticking to ‘doing things the way they’ve always been done’ and instead aim to stay on the cutting edge of resources for use of force. Ultimately, safety for everyone involved is a high priority at Brunswick Hills PD.
“Law enforcement, as a whole, needs to start looking at better ways of effecting arrests – making it quick and easy – but also taking care of our suspects after,” he said.
Visit Reflex Protect Tactical for more information.