Chelsea Record – Chelsea Police Department rents a mobile firearms training range
By Rich Griffin
For the last week or so, there has been a non-descript tractor trailer (sans tractor) parked next in City Yard lot on Williams Street. It’s completely white, seemingly innocuous. It looks just like every other truck in the produce market.
Step inside its doors, though, and you quickly realize the trailer’s cargo isn’t fruit and vegetables. It’s sidearms and shotguns.
Twice a year, the Chelsea Police Department rents the trailer – a mobile firearms training range -from Blue Line Corp. of Beverly. Massachusetts police officers are required to take an annual firearms exam to remain certified in the use of the service weapons. That’s why the trailer, which left the City Yard last Sunday, was in Chelsea. The department will rent the trailer again in six months or so for more training exercises.
Chelsea police officers had been coming and going out of the trailer for most of a week to be certified in the use of two weapons: their sidearms, a Glock .40 caliber and a Binelli semi-automatic shotgun that every squad car is equipped with.
The range has three bays, moveable targets, soundproofing and more bells and whistles than can be listed. The police department’s two firearms instructors, Patrolman John Gravallese and Sgt. John Nee, can simulate every situation minus rain and snow. The heat can be cranked to increase the stress levels of officers in already stressful situations, or it can dropped so officers can learn to deal with decreased motor function in an arctic setting. A strobe light simulates the visual problems an officer encounters when he or she steps out of the cruiser and are placed into a dangerous situation, and the lights can be dimmed to simulate nighttime conditions.
When the trailer returns six months from now, Chelsea officers will utilize its best feature – its “shoot/don’t shoot” Live Firearms Judgment Simulator, or as most teenagers would call it, The Best Video Game Ever. A large video screen at the end of the trailer can simulate over 140 different situations, from basic traffic stops to hostage situations. Officers must make up their minds in fractions of a second to determine whether, for instance, the person approaching them on screen is carrying a harmless Wiffle ball bat or a machete. “That’s the real deal,” said Captain Brian Kyes. “It’s not like before when we’d go to the range and we’d have 10 guys just standing in line, waiting to shoot. These training exercises have practical applications for officers on the street.”
Chelsea’s finest aren’t the only ones who like the trailer. City officials praise it for its cost effectiveness. Renting the trailer costs the department $18,000, which represents a savings of approximately $12,000. When the department’s headquarters was refurbished, no shooting range was included. That meant officers had to travel to ranges across the state at a cost of about $30,000. Not only does the department save money by renting the trailer, but its officers receive superior, and oftentimes, one-on-one training. City Manager Jay Ash liked the idea of the trailer so much that he included a line item in this year’s Capital Improvement Plan to purchase a trailer, but that idea has been shelved for the time being.
Renting the trailer also cuts down on overtime costs. “We can pull an officer off the street for half an hour and provide them with training they need,” said Gravallese. “Before, we’d have 10 guys in a line, with three instructors. With this, they get individual training, and if they have to go out on a call, they can be in their cruisers within seconds.”
Every Chelsea police officer, from the greenest rookie right up to Chief Frank Garvin, took part in the certification. Gravallese said officers fired 10,000 rounds from their Glock service weapons and 500 shotgun shells. “This trailer is excellent for the department for a number of reasons,” Kyes said. “The cost effectiveness of it is something we’re very happy with, obviously, and training-wise, it’s second to none.”