Melrose Free Press – Mobile range comes to Melrose Police: Film scenarios test officers’ marksmanship and discretion
By Daniel DeMaina – Wed Feb 06, 2008, 10:46 PM EST
Melrose – As the officer enters the bank, he sees the robber holding a gun to a hostage’s head. Does he hold his position and call for backup, or take immediate action? Deciding he has a clear shot at the robber, the officer takes aim and shoots.
Then, the lights come up in the trailer. The officer examines his accuracy and reviews his decision with the range instructor.
Melrose Police officers had the opportunity last week to review real-life situations such as bank robberies and school situations, while fulfilling their annual firearm certifications, when a mobile firearms training range was brought to the police station last week.
In addition to housing a standard, three-bay firing range, the trailer — from Blue Line Corp. of Beverly — has a wall-sized movie screen that plays over 400 scenarios that test not only officers’ marksmanship, but their discretion and on-scene assessment capabilities.
Paul Polonsky, a former Ipswich police officer who started Blue Line Corp. four years ago, said the movie scenarios go beyond requiring officers to shoot either their sidearm or a non-lethal weapon. While some scenarios have suspects showing a gun, others have suspects without guns or suspects who say they will surrender peacefully.
“It’s also training for verbal commands,” Polonsky said. “It’s a very good training tool in regards to, you saw this, OK, you should be on the radio saying ‘send more backup’ or ‘there’s people injured.’ It’s not only shoot or don’t shoot. There are many other good things you get out of it. You actually have to see it to appreciate it.”
Melrose Police Officer Dave Akell, one of three members of the force certified by the Massachusetts Criminal Justice Training Council as a range instructor, said the movie scenarios replace the instructor having to explain a hypothetical situation to the officer and then have the officer respond.
“It’s part of a live-action event … it’s really a good capability that the trailer has, so we’re looking to incorporate that [in training],” Akell said.
Melrose Police Chief Mike Lyle said usually movie scenarios for officer training involve laser guns, not real weapons, that display where the shots landed.
“With this one, the guys are actually shooting their service weapons into a target,” Lyle said. “It’s more of a real-life situation.”
Polonsky said the trailer has scenarios not only for police officers, but also for armored car companies, corrections officers and even citizen scenarios, such as a home break, for gun owners.
“The police officer scenarios range from anything from a hold up in a store, to a domestic situation, to a school disturbance,” he said. “There’s also officer hostage situations, where an officer is taken hostage and there’s negotiations, and whether you shoot or don’t shoot when you have a chance.”
Cost savings, better training, chief says
Lyle said a car accident last year, in which four Melrose police officers were injured while traveling to the firearm training range at Fort Devens in Groton, prompted him to look into training options closer to home.
“I still have one guy [from that accident] out today,” he said.
Lyle discovered the mobile trailer range through networking with other law enforcement officials.
Since officers have to complete their annual certifications when they are off-duty, the department has to pay overtime for officers traveling the 45 miles to Fort Devens.
“Versus paying eight-hour overtimes, I pay four-hour overtimes when people are off shift. We save time and money,” Lyle said. “To go out to Devens costs $200 a day [to reserve the range]. The day the guys were all hurt, the range was reserved, so we had to pay that anyway.”
Lyle said it costs $100 per man to ‘qualify’ and complete their annual certification using the trailer range.
“If you usually pay a guy $400 of overtime, and this is just a number I’m throwing at you, instead you pay him $200 for four-hour overtime and $100 to qualify, your net saving is $100 bucks,” he said. “Economically its great, plus it saves wear and tear on the cruisers. We don’t have to supply any targets, just our duty ammo and anything else we use at the range.”
In addition, officers can complete their training in the soundproofed trailer after nightfall, unlike outdoor ranges like Fort Devens, Lyle said.
“I apologized to all the neighbors for the ‘loud nail guns,’ as they were described,” Lyle said with a chuckle. “It’s a muffled sound … between fireworks and a nail gun, I would say.”
Polonsky said the trailer also allows officers to simulate nighttime or low-light shooting, something also unavailable at outdoor ranges.
“It gives the officers a lot of experience in low light and even no light situations where they have to use their flashlight. That’s a big training tool for us now also,” he said. “We also have, when we do the lowlight training, the ability to put on blue strobe lights as if they’re pulled up next to a scene. The way the strobe lights and flashing blue lights almost make you dizzy as you’re shooting, it makes a good experience to have those going at the same time. It really sharpens their skills in regards to shooting or being at a scene.”
The Massachusetts Criminal Justice Training Council requires officers once a year training, but Akell said he and others would like that requirement to increase.
“We’re working toward that and this trailer will go a long way towards that goal,” he said. “It’s recommended by the training council, but there’s no standard in place. More is obviously better … it’s a perishable skill, like any physical skill. If you don’t practice, it deteriorates.”