The Naval Support Activity South Potomac (NSASP) Police Department hosted outside military, law enforcement, and investigative organizations Feb. 23 for training sessions and idea-sharing at Building 217 onboard Naval Support Facility (NSF) Dahlgren. South Potomac police officers met with partners and peers from Naval Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division (NAVEODTECHDIV), Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) and Marine Corps Base (MCB) Quantico's Security Battalion. The goal: exploit the benefits of "cross-pollenization" to better respond to common security threats. Those response skills will be put to the test later this month as NSASP's blue line takes a central role in the base's iteration of Citadel Shield/ Solid Curtain 12 (CS/SC 12) exercises.
The philosophy behind cross-pollenization may strike a familiar tone to the scientific community in Dahlgren. Police officers address threats through a series of set -first principles reinforced through repetition and muscle memory; however, officers are expected to incorporate those principles into tactics, which must be adapted and adjusted in innumerable ways to fit complex, ever-evolving security threats. Just as a good idea on a computer model may be found impractical when applied in the real world, NSASP police officers must constantly test and shape tactical theory to fit reality. There may be many "right" ways to address a problem, each with its own benefits and vulnerabilities. As any hard-working Dahlgren engineer understands, a fresh, outside perspective can often fast-track the development of effective solutions.
To that end, Building 217 has become a test lab of sorts. Low-tech and high-tech capabilities have been co-located in setting that now allows classroom instruction, dry runs, virtual "modeling" and a vast space on the second floor for practical application. The layout of the former barracks is unique among regional law enforcement training facilities in that it provides a school and office-like setting, the landscape most affected by today's top security threat, the active shooter. Improvements to the once-unused facility came into being through no-cost, "elbow grease" initiatives carried out by NSASP police officers.
The improvised training facility promises to entice outside military and law enforcement units to Dahlgren for training. Senior Chief Petty Officer (MACS) Christopher Merz, assistant chief of NSASP police, welcomed the visitors and set the cross-pollenization tone. "All we ask is that if you see us doing something that you think you have a better answer for, tell us," he told visitors.
The idea-sharing was a two-way street. "I love it," said Cpl. Tim Brown, one of the seven Security Battalion personnel from Quantico to visit Dahlgren for training. "It gives you a different perspective. Training with the same bunch of guys can get kind of old. They tend to game the game sometimes because on your own team, you know each others' tactics and you know what others are going to do. But training with other organizations gives you something new to look at and incorporate with what [your team] has already established."
Brown and the Quantico Marines saw immense training value in NSASP's new virtual training simulator. Acquired from VirTra Systems, the simulator offers a highly-realistic, cost-effective way to not only re-enforce law enforcement basics, but also test officers on applying those basic in diverse, customizable scenarios. Comparing the new system to its predecessors is a bit like comparing an Atari to the latest X-Box. Gone are the cheesy graphics and clumsy training weapons, with their attached air hoses. The large, multi-scene display fills peripheral vision and the only perceivable difference between training weapons is the real deal are refillable, recoil-providing CO2 cartridges that fit into the weapons' magazine wells. Instructors can control virtual scenarios in real time, guiding exercises based off things like an officer's verbal commands. Scenarios can be as simple as a simulated range session, or as complex as a raid on a bomb-maker in the Middle East.
"I like this [system] a whole lot better than stuff I've used in the past," said Brown. "The 3-D effect and multiple weapons. I like it."
Senior Chief Petty Officer (GMCS) Robert Hyatt, assigned to NAVEDOTECHDIV, pointed out operational advantages to cross-pollenization. "There's a lot more joint training and operations going on now," said Hyatt. "You get the Navy and the Marine Corps, you get DoD Police and we all train together. If we have to deploy together, we now can know how each other operates."
Hyatt gave a few examples of the type of valuable knowledge that can be shared between military and law enforcement. "With the military, our room clearing and breeching was a slow process," he said. "Since we've worked with civilian police, our breeching techniques have become more refined, more dynamic."
Likewise, Hyatt's military experience gave him something valuable to pass on to law enforcement. "We're used to wearing [body] armor all the time," said Hyatt. "We've helped [police] train with body armor the correct way." For Hyatt and other members of the special operations community, that means squaring up and facing the bad guys so only the strongest part of one's armor is exposed. These seemingly small details can have critical applications when it comes to law enforcement addressing threats posed by active-shooters.
Safely addressing security threats is only part of the expertise required of today's police officers, however. Officers must also have a basic understanding of how to properly handle evidence. Here again, NSASP police officers are using the theme of cross-pollenization to gain invaluable knowledge from the evidence experts at NCIS.
"It's a win-win for us," said Special Agent Ed Young, assigned to the NCIS resident unit onboard NSASP. "As an agent with NCIS, we have to count on [police officers] at the local, base level. The better trained they are, the easier it makes my job. And it's been a pleasure to teach them."
A wing of Building 217 has been designated to host scenarios designed to test police officers' evidence-handling skills. The space allows NCIS to train its own agents while also helping ensure rank-and-file police officers understand how to process a crime scene. "We have five rooms where we can develop different scenes representing the full gamut of what NCIS investigates," said Young. "We are really lucky to have the ability to come here and continuously work with our partners on the base."
Young said he hoped the tactical training also hosted in Building 217 would rub off on NCIS agents, who often deploy overseas. "Hands down, this is a fantastic place we have available to us here," he said.