Jan 19 2006;
BROCKTON, MA, USA; J. KIELY JR./THE ENTERPRISE -- BPD
RANGE TRAINING -- Brockton Police Officer Steve Johnson
takes aim from his cruiser with a H+K rifle while
training with firearms at the Brockton Police Department
shooting range Thursday afternoon. The Brockton Police
have added a number of new technologies to their range
in recent years in order to train officers on
situational awareness and proper reactions to dangerous
and fluid situations. -- WITH BOYLE STORY (J. KIELY
By Maureen Boyle,
ENTERPRISE STAFF WRITER
BROCKTON — As narcotics
detectives burst into the Calmar Street apartment, the drug
dealing suspect stood with a .357 revolver aimed at the first
officer through the door.
"We very well could have
shot him," Sgt. Kevin O'Connell, head of the narcotics unit,
But they didn't.
One detective kept his gun
trained on the suspect, ordering the man to drop the weapon, as
the others took cover and then moved in.
No shots were fired. No
one was injured.
Training that night took
over, O'Connell said.
It was one of countless
situations in Brockton where police officers say they faced
gunmen — or suspects who they initially believed could have had
guns — and didn't fire.
communities are grappling with cases where suspects have been
wounded or killed by police — such as in Plymouth where police
shot and killed a 16-year-old boy earlier this month.
But in Brockton, few
police officers fire weapons in a city where gunshots are
"Training has something to
do with it," Brockton Police Chief William Conlon said. "Luck
has to play a part, too."
Many police officers in
the area are certified just once a year in the use of their
firearms. Brockton officers go to the department's range for
certification twice a year — and are encouraged to go even more
And the training doesn't
end with shooting at targets.
-Officers hit the ground
to simulate real-life situations on the streets, from car stops
to gunmen ducking behind innocent bystanders.
- The training takes place
during the day and at night, when two-thirds of the officers
- The department sets up a
firing range complete with cars so officers can sharpen skills
on approaching stopped vehicles. They use paint ball guns to
mirror street situations.
- The firing range was
modified to include a moving "man" ducking behind targets
representing bystanders to help officers handle "shoot-don't
The training is paying
off, they say.
Since 2003, Brockton
police officers or animal control officers fired their guns a
dozen times. In 11 of those cases, they shot animals. In 2004,
an officer shot and wounded a suspect who was driving a car at
That comes as police field
dozens of reports of gunfire in the city and seize at one gun a
week from suspects. Between Jan. 1 and 23, there were 19 calls
to police of gunshots in the city and 14 other calls for a
person with a gun.
"The officers are
emotionally prepared to expect a gun call," Detective Lt. John
Crowley said. "Guys coming into work are prepared to deal with
at least one gun call. Maybe that's the difference. ... If you
haven't had a gun call in a year, there is the potential for
Brockton, in many ways,
mirrors the experience of cities across the country. National
studies found police across the country rarely fired firearms
One study of 7,512 arrests
found police used a gun in 0.2 percent of the cases, according
to the National Institute of Justice and the Bureau of Justice
Training is key when
seconds count and officers don't have time to analyze a
situation — or second- guess themselves.
"Your training takes
over," Sgt. Brian Leary, one of the five Brockton firearms
Sgt. William Barry,
another instructor, likened the training to knowing how to drive
— you know when to brake quickly, you know when to instantly
"Physically, your mind
doesn't know the difference between training and real-life
situations," he said. "All your mind remembers is the response
to a reaction. Your mind is already calculating what to do. It
is almost like an auto pilot."
When officers simulate car
stops using paint ball guns, the results can be eye-opening.
"For the simulation, we
will have the guys in the car who are the suspects and the
officers approach. Sometimes the suspects will have a gun.
Sometimes they will pull a cell phone out of their pocket,"
Leary said. "They are shooting paint balls but, all of a sudden,
they realize, if this was real life something bad just
Officer Steven Johnson,
who worked nights for years, said the training is important. "It
keeps you on your toes," he said. "Anything can happen on the
Sgt. Kenneth Lofstrom
agreed. "The situations are similar to what you may face on the
Johnson said he has
trained on computerized training simulators — a type of video
game depicting realistic situations — but it isn't the same.
"It's more like a video game," Johnson said. "You don't get the
Thomas J. Aveni,
co-founder of the Police Policy Studies Council, said the more
officers train in "shoot-don't shoot" situations, the better.
"What you are trying to
do is make the training environment as much akin to what the
working environment would be," Aveni said.
But doing that can be
costly for a department, he said. "When you start doing
scenario-based training, it is slow, it is tedious, it eats up a
lot of man-hours."
However, it can save a
community money in the long run by preventing lawsuits and
providing a strong defense if a civil case is filed in a
"It becomes a risk
management issue," Aveni said. "If you believe an ounce of
prevention is worth a pound of cure, certainly training is a
good way to inoculate yourself."