Football fans and hapless referees are not the only groups of people who enjoy the benefits of instant replay. A new video system installed at Naval Support Facility (NSF) Dahlgren is helping Naval Support Activity South Potomac (NSASP) police officers improve and refine their skills in the never-ending mission to better serve and protect the community.
The video system found a home in Building 217, a former barracks identified for demolition that got a new lease on life as a training facility for the NSASP Police Department. Demolishing the old, 1942-constructed facility is on hold due to a lack of funding, and NSASP police officers saw a window of opportunity to use the 19,000-square-foot building for training. Officers continue to put in countless hours of their own time to improve the building's training features and the site is rapidly becoming a premier law enforcement training facility.
For those unfamiliar with law enforcement tactics, the old barracks facility is rather unassuming. But for seasoned law enforcement professionals, conducting police operations through the building's long winding hallways, cluttered rooms and opposing danger areas is a daunting challenge.
Of course, ski instructors don't send novices down a triple black diamond slope until they are ready. Training programs developed in Building 217 are scaled into the familiar crawl-walk-run regimen. While realism is maintained at every level of training, training officers at the NSASP Police Department have configured the facility to support a variety of training scenarios, from high-stress active shooter training, to evidence collection in the age of "CSI."
The new video system gives training officers a vital tool to monitor and replay the scenarios. Countless studies have shown that humans are less than perfect when it comes to accurately perceiving reality while under duress. Good law enforcement training replicates the stress of real life, but that same useful stress can also hinder trainees' ability to understand what they did right and where they need to improve. With 24 cameras recording every training evolution, instructors can identify and correct problems, and more importantly, show trainees an objective picture of reality untainted by adrenaline and tunnel vision.
Joe Biondi, managing partner of Gem Sight and Sound Innovations (SSI), designed and installed the system for the NSASP Police Department. "There was not a name brand product out there that was going to fit their needs," he said.
Biondi worked closely with NSASP Police Chief Robert Brooks to develop a video system with several advanced features, such as infrared cameras capable of monitoring no-light conditions. Four terabytes of hard drive space allow instructors to store vast quantities of footage. "I know it is one-of-a-kind," said Biondi of his creation. "It's definitely unique."
Biondi said he enjoyed designed the system for Brooks. "His whole goal is training," Biondi said of Brooks. "Putting together the system for him was a joy."
The system is already having a positive impact on training. "The video system gives us the ability to record and review the students during each training evolution," said Capt. Brian Flanagan, training officer for the NSASP Police Department.
"The instructor can critique the student, while the student can review his or her own actions performed," adds Flanagan. "It is always a benefit to actually see where you can make improvements. In addition, the camera monitoring room doubles as a communication center, where an instructor can in real time monitor, dispatch and modify training evolutions."
Flanagan described some of the training scenarios that the video system will document for instructors in Building 217. "Our current scenarios include various basic officer responses such as noise complaints, assaults, domestic disturbance, alarm responses, larceny and burglary response, suspicious persons, suspicious package, bomb threats, vehicle and pedestrian [improvised explosive device] response, unknown substance, crowd control, fight in progress, and many more. In addition, we have active shooter, hostage barricade, officer down and officer rescue [scenarios] and other more tactical response scenarios."
Several rooms have been modified so police officers can train in low-light conditions and with the IR video system, trainees and instructors can now review scenarios. "We now have a dark hallway with two dark rooms so officers can practice using their flashlights in a scenario or other things like a FLIR, and Night Vision goggles," said Corporal Scott Broske, a NSASP police officer who helped create the facility's training features.
The once-unused space is now helping NSASP officers train harder and smarter. "We can run our tabletop form of training that is normally utilized as part of our Navy required training, but we can then go into the center and actually perform and practice what we just covered," said Flanagan.
"It is a facility where we can adjust scenarios to fit the targeted training objective," he adds. "Before the creation of this facility, there wasn't a location anywhere in the region that could provide that type of tool. Now we have that capability right here as well as the opportunity to train alongside our local and regional counterparts to better prepare for possible future events."
While the video system increases the value of training scenarios in Building 217, it is only one of many improvements to its training features. "We have put a lot of thought into making each situation or scenario as realistic as possible," said Broske. "We don't want to simulate or make believe anything. if it happened, it is in there."
NSASP police officers estimate they put 200 to 300 off-duty hours creating training scenarios. Much of the work involved setting up realistic scenario spaces, such as crime scenes. Creativity and elbow grease helped keep the improvements cheap. For example, used furniture from the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Office (DRMO) is incorporated in the training space.
Of course, the motivation to improve oneself cannot be purchased in any store or warehouse. "What motivates me to go the extra mile is I want officers to get the most realistic training possible," said Broske. "I have been through so much training and some things are good and other things. they are simulating or pretending and that is not real; it does not teach the officer."
Broske said other officers are equally enthusiastic about training. "We are getting help from many officers because they want the training and they want it to be as real as possible, so they are willing to put in the hours to help us out," he said. "Most training in the past was done with fake red guns and you said 'bang.' There is no accuracy or realism in that."
Military law enforcement training has responded to evolving security threats over the last decade. "For a long time the general consensus here was that the police officers were here to check ID's and perform 'gate guard' duties," said Flanagan. "While checking ID's at entry points are a significant part of a police officer's duties, we have a greater responsibility, which is to provide a safe environment for the personnel here."
NSASP police officers are eager to train for the future's security challenges. "We have always had a large majority of the officers here wanting to take part in more training," said Flanagan. "We have in recent years enrolled many officers in the state certified law enforcement academy. That enrollment has allowed us to certify many of our officers as instructors in different areas. With that, we can bring the additional training to our officers."
Flanagan credited NSASP Police Chief Robert Brooks for turning the desire for more realistic training into a reality. Flanagan also praised Broske and Corporal Bryan Mason for spearheading many of the training improvements created in the former barracks. But a good police department is more than the sum of individuals. Building 217, its video system and all the other training improvements, help foster a more professional police force.
"Too often we look at only what is 'required,'" said Flanagan. "Unfortunately that mindset creates complacency. Our goal here is to train above the standard and constantly improve on methods and tactics in an effort to have our officers prepared to respond to any event. The more we train, the more natural the response will be."