DOCJT Instructors Build Shoot House for Tactical Training
Great things happen when passionate people come together.
At the Department of Criminal Justice Training, there is no shortage of passion and commitment among the staff responsible for training the commonwealth’s law enforcement professionals. In fact, DOCJT Commissioner Alex Payne said the agency now, quite literally, has “a monument to the dedication of the people we have here at DOCJT.”
After nearly eight months of planning, hammering, door hanging and painting – a lot of painting – a long-desired goal to close a training gap has come to fruition through the construction of a new Shoot House.
Cameras are strategically placed throughout the 3,700 square-foot renovated space, located inside DOCJT’s Stone Building. A large TV in the debriefing room allows recruits to watch their fellow students navigate the training space and learn from their mistakes. A speaker system can project and isolate sounds like gunshots, screaming, sirens, or a myriad of other sound effects, that help recruits hone in on the stimuli and indicators they have been taught to observe. New three-dimensional targets increase realism in training. Moving doors allow the entire facility to be reconfigured in limitless arrangements.
As impressive as the new facility is in its own right, its construction story makes it extraordinary.
The idea to create a next-level, multi-use, tactical-training facility was proposed by DOCJT Firearms instructors several years earlier, said DOCJT Patrol Tactics Supervisor Shannon West. Upon taking the lead of the Patrol Tactics Section, West said he was encouraged by DOCJT’s commissioner and deputy commissioner to formally submit a proposal to construct the facility based on the concept.
From there, the idea blossomed into a full-scale, hands-on project.
“It really is a great example of an organization coming together to make something happen,” West said. “So many people contributed to that.”
Instead of hiring contractors and spending thousands in architectural design and labor, DOCJT staff members organized their skills and talents to design and build the Shoot House themselves, saving tens of thousands in taxpayer dollars, West said.
“No one person can take credit for this whole thing,” he said. “(DOCJT Patrol Procedures Supervisor) Andy Wilson drew up the plans for it and did the research and the whole Patrol Tactics Section went to Norse Tactical, where we were allowed to go in and look at their shoot house to get some ideas. (DOCJT Special Topics Supervisor) Larry Sennett drafted it for us and put it on paper. From the people in Finance, who helped with ordering the building supplies, to the carpentry skills Andy Wilson and (DOCJT Instructor) Jason Mike brought, there were a lot of things everyone did that saved a ton of money.”
For several months, multiple DOCJT staff members juggled constructing the facility, all while maintaining a full-time training schedule. It was worth it, though, when DOCJT’s Basic Training Academy recruit class 499 were the first recruits to train in the space.
“It was exciting,” West said. “The recruits were excited. We got to do things that were very difficult to do and demonstrate before.”
The Shoot House design includes the ability to divide the facility in half so two groups can participate in training simultaneously.
“Immediately, we were able to see the results in terms of more quality time we got to spend with them learning critical, basic, tactical principles,” West said. “That was a huge thing. We went back again later and did building searches with a recruit class. We realized a lot more time in that as well. We are having to look at our lesson plans again because we can plug in some more principles we can teach them now that we have that time.”
Closing the Gap
DOCJT has prided itself on the quality of law enforcement training invested in every basic training recruit and returning officer seeking continuing education and skills. The agency operates an indoor firing range, a firearms simulator system and an outdoor firing range for long gun training.
As good as that training was, Commissioner Payne said there has been a “missing link” in firearms training. The Shoot House was that link.
“You usually start with a bullet range with live fire on real guns, but it is very restricted for obvious safety reasons,” Payne said. “There are only certain things you can do. Its primary purpose is to make sure recruits gets the basics down. The instructor can look at a paper target with bullet holes in it, and if they are in the right places, that tells you the student has those basics down.”
This is what DOCJT refers to as the crawl stage of firearms training.
“A lot of departments leave it at that, but that is just chapter one of a book with three chapters,” Payne said. “People leave the book right there and think officers can go out and be ready to encounter the things we encounter all over this country and in Kentucky, and they’re not.
“All that means is that you can take real bullets and put them in a piece of paper,” he continued. “We are not attacked by paper. Paper doesn’t shoot back or move.”
Recruits need to learn to “walk,” too. They do that through chapter two of the proverbial book – simulated firearms training, Payne said.
“You take those things learned on the range, and the simulator helps the instructors see if recruits are making good decisions under stress – it’s basically a judgment tool,” Payne said. “Are the recruits picking the right tool for the scenario? Are they saying the right things? Are they making the right decisions based on what they are absorbing from that particular scenario? That is very important because that judgment is critical. There you start to deal with human beings, emotions and stress.”
A lot of firearms training stops there, Payne said. But there is one more chapter of training to give recruits their best chance at winning a firefight—the running stage. That’s where the Shoot House shines.
“The third chapter is the most important of all,” he said. “It is kind of the polish you apply in the last phase to that stone. Now you’re going to take all the things you learned from the bullet range and the simulator and apply them in a 360-degree, totally-reactionary environment. We are going to put you in situations with real human beings. Because that’s what these recruits will do out there. That is what 911 is – it is an invitation from the public to the police to come help with their emergencies.
“You’re not doing that on a bullet range,” Payne continued. “You are sort of doing it on a simulator. But you don’t have real, live bodies to deal with, that you can go hands-on with. You can do all those things in that Shoot House.”
The facility is completely outfitted with safety gear and equipment, and no live-fire weapons are used in the training environment. In the Shoot House, recruits will experience what it is like to search for suspects while walking through a classroom outfitted with student desks or maneuver through bedrooms with furniture obstructing their paths.
“Training is where you want to make mistakes,” Payne said. “Mistakes here don’t cost anybody anything. They are not going to cost anyone their life or a lawsuit. If they are going to make mistakes, we can see them and correct them here. This Shoot House gives us a great facility where recruits can safely make those mistakes and learn from them before they leave the academy.”