Wilmington Police Chief Michael Begonis recalled the weapons training he took part in when he first entered the police force. He would stand at a range, gun drawn, firing at paper targets that were moved by a hand crank as the smoke rose from the range up the stairs into the station above.
Standing inside the thermal sensitive, video-based, interactive Mobile Training Center on Friday, Begonis doesn't need much more evidence on just how much things have changed.
“It’s a different place from 25 years ago,” said Begonis. “If you think about one of the most critical situations in law enforcement with either the most risk or most liability, these situations where you have your handgun out and you’re taking that deadly force scenario is one of the most dangerous and litigated things that we do. This just gives offers the opportunity to have more hands on time with the weapon, which is a tool of ours.”
The training center, provided by the Middlesex County Sheriff’s Department to department’s across the county, is a reinforced armor-plated trailer that allows officers to use live rounds, firing at a screen as video scenarios play out in front of them.
Bullets are fired into a self-healing rubber screen that catches the bullets and drops them into a bullet trap that is cleaned out after a designated number of fires. After each simulation is completed, the video replays where each bullet would have hit the subject and an instructor works with officers on a one-on-one basis to determine what they could have done better.
The video also reacts to verbal commands from the officers, so the experience allows officers to feel as though they are actually out in the field.
“We’ve shared this with about 30 agencies this past year, some that have duplicated from the first year,” said Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, who said interacting with departments in the area is a critical piece of what his office does. “Instead of saying ‘this is what we think you need,’ we sit down with the chiefs and see what we can provide for Middlesex County police departments.”
Purchased in 2010 using mostly a $475,000 federal COPS grant, the Mobile Training Center has trained 1,100 officers this past year. The trailer is booked out months in advance by local departments and can also be used for annual handgun and firearms certifications, if needed by the local department.
The 180 video scenarios include an active shooter in a school setting, uncooperative suspects at routine traffics stops, suicidal subjects, and more.
Wilmington officers spent this week training in the facility as it was parked in the parking lot of Action Ambulance. Begonis said 48 of his officers went through the training this week, and at no cost to the town.
The only aspect the Police Department is required to pay for is the diesel fuel to run the trailer, and Begonis said that comes thanks to the Department of Public Works and the Police Department does not pay for it out of its training budget.
After his officers completed a previous period of training inside the trailer, Begonis asked for feedback. Out of all the officers who utilized the Mobile Training Center, 100 percent offered a positive response.
“I used to hear a lot of people complain about going to the range,” said Begonis. “I don’t hear anyone complain about this.”