Rock County law enforcement agencies turn courthouse into practice facility

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Saturday, April 7, 2012
— The man paced and shouted.

He slammed doors.

He pounded on file cabinets.

After what seemed like forever to the woman trapped behind the desk, he fired one shot—CRACK!—into the air.

He came around the desk, pointed his gun at her and started shouting.

Suddenly, a string of “pops” sounded from the hall. The man’s jacket burst into red, and he collapsed.

Officers rushed into the room. One stood over the man on the ground while another grabbed the woman by the elbow and pulled her to the safety of the hallway.

“End scenario!” someone said.

In a blink, the tension melted from the room.

The “bad guy” with the gun turned back into Rock County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Doug Coulter. As he got up from the floor, an officer got in a dig or two about who was the better shooter.

The short scene was one of dozens played out Friday on the second floor of the Rock County Courthouse, which was closed for Good Friday. The red on Coulter’s vest came from a dozen blinking lights triggered by infrared rays from a training weapon. The “victim” behind the desk in this scenario was a Gazette reporter.

The activity was an opportunity for local police officers and sheriff’s deputies to practice the kinds of tactical maneuvers they would use against an active shooter in a public place.

The training session ran from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. so deputies and patrol officers on all three shifts could participate, Coulter said, who is in charge of training at the sheriff’s office.

Officers did not get holiday pay, and the majority will not get overtime, Sgt. Wade Hansen said. Most dropped in for an hour or two during their patrol shifts. Officers from all Rock County agencies were welcome.

Coulter has organized similar training sessions in other large, public buildings. The difference between prior training sessions and Friday’s session was the equipment.

As the participants dropped in, trainers organized them into groups and fitted them with heavy vests and realistic looking rifles—imitations of the rifles local law enforcement agents carry in patrol vehicles.

The weapons and vests are part of a new generation of tactical training tools, said Dominic Ferraro, president of Advanced Protection Group of Endeavor. The guns shoot only infrared rays. If a shooter “hits” a vest, the vest lights up to indicate the shot.

The system was developed by irTactical of Whitewater. Without it, the department would have used airsoft guns or red, plastic guns, Coulter said.

While the equipment isn’t cheap, it is less costly to fire than equipment fitted with training rounds, Ferraro said. The system will improve the cost and availability of police training, he said.

“It’s going to save lives,” Ferraro said.

The companies donated the use of the equipment, and staff members from Advanced Protection and irTactical were on hand to help with the equipment.

During each scenario, Coulter hid in a different room on the second floor of the courthouse. In some instances, he made lots of noise while officers searched. Other times, he would fire one shot and sit quietly until they found him.

In groups of two or four, officers worked their way through hallways, courtrooms and offices. Some groups were quieter than others and managed to sneak up on Coulter and his “hostage.” Others were louder, and Coulter was ready for them when they stepped in the room.

The goal in every case is to safely but quickly end violence, Hansen said. In some cases, supervisors had to remind trainees to step over the bodies of teammates and focus on the shooter.

“We’re cops, so we’re trained to stop and help,” Hansen said. “We can’t do that in this case.”

Last updated: 8:11 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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