Investigation and Decontamination
Resolving a staph outbreak means not only curing those infected with the bacteria, but laying a foundation that will prevent a recurrence.
"In our case, we initiated essentially three areas of intervention and what we call control measures," Pascoe explains. "The first was active inspection and disinfection of the mats and the equipment that was in use at the time these defensive tactics were going on. Previously they hadn't done anything, so we had to disinfect the mats after each group had done their training or their activities, as well as shared items like gloves, strike pads, simulated weapons. Prior to handling these things, we disinfected their hands. Similarly, we did that after their activity."
On the east coast, Prince George's County and Delaware also cleaned up their acts.
"These infections were never a public health risk since it was contained in the training class," Prince George's County Deputy Chief Michael Blow, head of the strategic management bureau, said in a statement.
"Now that everyone has been successfully treated and cleared, we can get back to the business of training recruits, who are excited about returning to work."
Stopping It Before It Starts
It's been said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Just as Pascoe's recommendations proved effective in combating the Texas breakout, other trainers are taking precautionary measures.
Ed Nowicki is executive director of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA). He is a strong advocate for increased hygienic vigilance in training environments.
Nowicki points out that preventing injuries goes a long way toward preventing staph infections.
"You have to balance a desire for realistic training with a need to be safe," Nowicki says. "Handcuffing techniques are a prime example. You want to get in the habit of being able to get handcuffs on a person quickly, and this takes some aggressive training. But when you're practicing such routines repeatedly, the ulna nerve on the wrist can really take a beating. You can end up leaving abrasions, open wounds that can then get infected. Why not prevent such injuries in the first place?"
To this end, Nowicki encourages the use of foam underwraps on the wrists of recruits. These wraps are themselves covered by tape so as to provide a secondary level of protection.
Pascoe also discovered a very simple way for officers to reduce their chances of being hit by staph in defensive tactics classes: Wear long sleeves and sweat pants. In his investigation of the Texas outbreak, he found a high correlation between the number of students wearing shorts and short-sleeved T-shirts and infections.
Nowicki has dealt with sepsis himself, and warns that another danger is cops' abilities to downplay or rationalize injuries. It's another reason why he's big on precautionary hygiene.
"We used bleach on our mats. The smell was sometimes over-powering, but it was something we had to do," says Nowicki.
Mike Siegfried is a force instructor for the San Bernardino County (Calif.) Sheriff's Department. As such, he is responsible for training 3,000 of the department's members every four months. He echoes the concerns articulated by Pascoe and Nowicki.
"I make sure that we have our mats and gear cleaned with a 10-percent bleach solution every single day," Siegfried says. "Not only that, I also make sure that students aren't allowed to use shoes on the mat and take steps to prevent cross-contamination such as when they go outside on the grass or visit a restroom. I make sure they get those shoes off and secured in an area where they're not going to get the carpet that's next to the wrestling mat contaminated with feces or urine."
Such vigilance might be described as over-the-top to some people. But such vigilance may be why Siegfried is not aware of a single one of the students in his programs contracting a staph infection during his three years as an instructor.