[PHOTO CREDITS: US-PIT]
(This Article was First Published in LLN in February, 2014 — Issue No. 17.)
A dozen times a year, Brazilian dignitaries descend on Tavares, Florida, to learn skills that may one day save their lives. In what may be one of the area’s best kept secrets, US Police Instructors Team (US-PIT) — the brainchild of Charles Saba — has been training Brazilian judges and law enforcement members for more than a decade in both defensive tactics, as well as the American judicial system.
The idea came one day as Saba watched television. “I was in Brazil and I was watching TV and I saw a bunch of [American] cop shows. And I said, why don’t I just package the real thing, because they need it here.” Thus, in 1996 Saba assembled a team of law enforcement officers to go to Brazil and teach a SWAT (special weapons and tactics) class. “It was a big hit,” Saba recalls, and the demand grew from there. Understandably, “it took a lot of knocking on doors and speaking to the right people,” Saba tells Lake Legal News. Then in 2003, while searching for more structure for the program, Saba met Richard Rippy, a Lake County Sheriff’s Office sergeant who, at the time, was range master at the Lake Tech Institute of Public Safety (IPS.) The program went from one to two classes annually in the beginning, to 12 times a year now.
Some may wonder why a program of this magnitude is necessary. “They [Brazil] had a huge problem with kidnapping [for ransom,]” Saba explains. Moreover, corruption and crime run rampant in Brazil; according to a 2010 study by the Federation of Industries of Sao Paulo State, as published on Forbes.com, corruption in Brazil is carrying an annual cost between $32 billion and $53 billion. A lack of a middle class is one contributing factor to the violence and breeds a culture of corruption.
Exemplifying the problem in Brazil, in 2011 Judge Patricia Acioli was ambushed by a group of police officers after she ordered the arrest of six policemen who were alleged to have executed an 18-year-old (and then tried to cover it up by saying the man had resisted arrest). Acioli was struck 21 times by police-issued bullets. The following year, one of those officers was sentenced to 21 years in prison after confessing and agreeing to help prosecutors by testifying against 10 other police officers. More than 100 other judges reported death threats in 2012 alone.
Now, many Brazilian judiciaries, officials, and some law enforcement officers who desire advanced training and the ability to learn from our system make the journey to Lake County, Florida. While here, they obtain hands-on tactical training, as well as an introduction to United States law enforcement and our judicial system. Just one county over from Lake, Judge Belvin Perry (chief judge of the Ninth Judicial Circuit) with the cooperation of the Orange County Board of Commissioners, allows the Brazilian students access to its judges and facilities. Perry, who became a household name after presiding over the Casey Anthony trial, has been a part of the program since its inception. The main portion of the advanced training they receive, however, occurs in Lake at the IPS — a facility which is owned by the Lake County School Board. But it is more than just finding a location; it is a group effort that makes this unique endeavor work.
Lake Tech Director Diane Culpepper, along with IPS Law Enforcement Director Lt. Chris De Libro (of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office), have been instrumental in securing the contract for US-PIT to continue to use the facilities in Tavares. Lake County Sheriff Gary Borders also worked to promote private contracting to generate funds for the county prior to and since being appointed sheriff in 2006. Additionally, Fifth Judicial Circuit Public Defender Michael Graves and his staff have been gracious to US-PIT by allowing students access to their facilities, as well. “It’s the perfect marriage between the private sector and government,” Rippy notes. This also has a positive impact on the local economy as students are eating at local restaurants and shopping at local retail establishments.
Students go through a five-day program that is similar to the Lake County Sheriff’s Office “Citizen Academy,” a program open to residents of Lake County. “They come here and see how the American justice system works,” Saba tells LLN. A fundamental principle of the US-PIT program is SWAT — and not what SWAT typically means in the United States. The US-PIT motto incorporates “Strength Weakness and Techniques” — a training week consisting of self-defense classes, classroom instruction to learn how to identify a threat, action versus reaction, how to be a hard target, and crime scene investigation as well. US-PIT is also in the process of creating an e-learning program for crime scene investigation to supplement the hands-on experience. Participants spend two days touring both the Lake County Judicial Center and jail and interacting with Perry’s judges in Orlando. On the final day, students learn weaponry and driving skills.
US-PIT employs around 15 current and retired law enforcement officers, including Rippy and Eustis Police Lt. Shane McSheehy. Rippy is the current owner and handles finance and support services for US-PIT; McSheehy is the Chief Operations Officer and oversees student curriculum. Saba, founder and chairman, continues to secure all of the company’s contracts, both domestic and international.
Saba says the students thoroughly enjoy the program, and observes that the chief complaint is that the program simply isn’t long enough. That may soon change, since US-PIT is currently working with Lake County Fire Assistant Chief Jack Fillman to create a fire portion for the program. Saba is also currently working with the United Nations and the country of Brazil on another endeavor — one which has the potential of producing a huge impact on Lake County’s economy in 2015.
Our Editor-in-Chief, Marilyn M. Aciego, began writing for Lake Legal News in 2010. In addition, she has made more than two dozen appearances on live national television, including Nancy Grace and the Greta Van Susteren show, along with her appearance on Evil Twins. Contact her with breaking news, tips, and feedback by sending an e-mail to 352Tips@gmail.com. You can also contact us on our Facebook page — and make sure you “Like” and “Follow us” there. [PHOTO CREDIT: Bonnie Whicher]