How one police department's scenario training keeps officers' skills sharp

The scenarios, which are based on real-life situations, range from an actual use-of-force situation to a de-escalation using verbal communication


Reprinted with permission from Behind the Badge

By Lou Ponsi

While some calls for service are seemingly routine (a car stop, a domestic dispute, a loud party) in the world of policing, there really is no such thing as a routine call.

Westminster police officers, including Sgt. Bill Drinnin, left, check their accuracy with live ammunition at an indoor shooting range.
Westminster police officers, including Sgt. Bill Drinnin, left, check their accuracy with live ammunition at an indoor shooting range. (Photo/Steven Georges of Behind the Badge)

For that reason, and to keep their skills sharp, sworn officers with the Westminster Police Department undergo periodic training.

Staged quarterly at Westminster Police Department’s Range and Safety Training Center, the most recent four-day round of training included firearms range training tests along with scenario training.

Other sessions include TASER training and training for arrest and control techniques.

The 21,000-square-foot facility includes a 10-lane gun range, a simunitions warehouse, a maze of rooms set up to resemble rooms in a home, a classroom and space for evidence storage.

FIREARMS and SCENARIO training

For the firearms training, officers fired handguns and AR-15s at targets from 3 to 25 yards away.

"It certainly gives you more familiarity with the tools that you have at your disposal and if and when you are called upon to use them, you definitely feel a little bit more comfortable for sure," said Officer Tim Walker, a 22-year veteran of the Westminster Police Department.

During the scenario training, officers responding to a domestic dispute had to safely navigate their way around an apartment while searching for a possible suspect.

Because a domestic dispute has the potential of becoming violent, responding officers need to maintain a heightened sense of awareness.

"(People) tend to be in a heated situation where they are not thinking clearly," said Officer Roland Perez, a six-year veteran of the Westminster Police Department. "When people start thinking emotionally, they can do stupid things."

Officers train with live ammunition at an indoor shooting range. (Photo/Steven Georges of Behind the Badge)
Officers lie on the floor as they train on various weapons at an indoor shooting range. (Photo/Steven Georges of Behind the Badge)
Officers gather for a briefing before starting a room-to-room search simulation. (Photo/Steven Georges of Behind the Badge)
Sgt. Bill Drinnin, left, runs through a simulation when searching rooms for a person reported to be armed and dangerous. (Photo/Steven Georges of Behind the Badge)
Officer Tim Walker finds a suspect and safely takes him into custody during a simulated room-to-room search. (Photo/Steven Georges of Behind the Badge)
Officer Tim Walker conducts a room-to-room search during a simulation in a fake house where instructors can view the progress through windows embedded in the maze. (Photo/Steven Georges of Behind the Badge)

Other scenarios involved a report of a homeless women possibly armed with a knife and a car stop where the driver was behaving suspiciously behind the wheel of a large van.

"They were reaching around a little bit," said Officer Jonathan Mullin, describing the mock car stop. "We didn't feel comfortable with her in the vehicle because of the size of it and potential hiding places for weapons, so we pulled her out of the vehicle and conducted our investigation then."

'Eye-opening' training

Mullin, a two-year member of the Westminster Police Department, said the scenario training is "eye-opening."

"(Training) like this really helps keep an edge for when things aren't ordinary," Mullin said.

Officers don't know what the scenario will be ahead of time. Every station has a proctor who gives officers a pass or fail grade.

"The (scenarios) are based on real life situations," Commander Alan Iwashita said. "They can range from an actual use-of-force situation to a simple de-escalation (using) verbal communication to diffuse the situation."

The building of the Westminster Police Department Range and Safety Training Center coincided with the construction of the 91,000-square-foot police building, which opened in April 2011 and replaced a 26,000-square-foot 1960s-era building.

Westminster Police Department also contracts with other agencies that conduct training at the center, Iwashita said.

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