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RIDOC Correctional Officers form Search and Rescue Team

RIDOC Correctional Officer Michael LaPlume of Warwick says he hasn’t seen anything like the camaraderie and support he’s witnessed since deciding to launch the Correctional Officers Search and Rescue (COSAR) Team about a year ago. Designed to assist in woodland searches for missing or lost children, Alzheimers patients, or even hikers and hunters who lose their way, the team is the only one of its kind in the state. It is on call 24/7. Officer LaPlume initially received 110 applications (all RIDOC Correctional Officers) for the 42-person team. He made his selections based on an interview process which determined the commitment level and experience of the applicants. He has donated some of his own money and has received support from the Rhode Island Brotherhood of Correctional Officers (RIBCO) to get the non-profit team up and running. The team has been trained and certified by the Rhode Island State Police and the Rhode Island Emergency Management Association (RIEMA). Officer LaPlume recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the State Police outlining how the team will operate.

COSAR is a multi-agency group called Task Force Two (TF-2), which is led by the State Police. Each member of COSAR winds up spending up to $400 between equipment and uniforms. Officer LaPlume is looking into grant funding to help defray some of these costs.

Officer LaPlume says forming the team has been a “huge endeavor,” but one he is pleased COSAR, Page 2 schedule, ordered all equipment, formed a board of directors, and just recently incorporated the team (with help from C.O. Jason Messier of the RIDOC’s Women’s Division). COSAR has a treasurer, recording secretary, and even a photographer. Officer LaPlume recognizes his team members for their dedication. “I couldn’t do any of this without them. With their help, hopefully we can save a life someday,” he says.

All members must complete a 16-hour course with the RISP, offered as two eight-hour days, as well as a 16-hour land/navigation course. There are 12 drills per year and some classroom sessions. The most recent training was held on Wednesday, June 24th, from 3:30-6:30 p.m. at the Training Academy. The team will participate in a multi-agency drill conducted by the Rhode Island State Police on Sunday, August 30th.

Because of the enthusiastic response, Officer LaPlume is in the process of recruiting more members, hoping to add another 20 new positions to the team. So far, he has three medics, one nurse, and two EMTs on the team. He has about eight female members and males with the title of Captain, Lieutenant, and C.O., ranging from two years on the job to over 30. All members are current active duty Correctional Officers who have been trained in crime scene preservation through the rigorous nine-week Correctional Officer Training Academy.

While the team hasn’t yet been pressed into service for an actual search, they held a mock search recently and were pleased when 35 of the 42 members reported. All members must participate on the team on their own time.

Officer LaPlume credits his comrade Lt. Michael Reis with inspiring him to start COSAR. Lt. Reis launched a dog rescue team and has been “a great inspiration.”

Realizing running the team was taking up more time than he’d ever imagined, OfficerLaPlume recruited 18-year RIDOC veteran Stephen Aceto to serve as assistant team leader. Officer Aceto, also of Warwick, recently held a class for team members on map reading and plotting. He designed the team patch, ordered all of the uniforms, and shares in making team decisions. He works in Maximum Security and Officer LaPlume in Minimum Security, but the team members come from every building within the ACI.

Corrections Director Ashbel T. Wall recently wrote to Officer LaPlume, commending him for his effort and congratulating him for forming a volunteer team with a common mission. “The public spiritedness and professional manner in which the team conducts itself will reflect well on the Department of Corrections,” Wall wrote.

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