Sixty sheriff’s deputies and police officers on Martha’s Vineyard got the chance to practice their shooting skills under some intense and realistic scenarios.
Through the generosity of Plymouth County Sheriff Joseph McDonald, a $750,000 firearms trailer was brought to the Island from Sept. 25 to Sept. 29 for training exercises. It would have been here longer, except Tropical Storm Jose got in the way.
Dukes County Sheriff Robert Ogden called it the “ultimate mutual aid between agencies.”
Typically, police and sheriff’s deputies have to do their training at Goodale’s pit or the Rod or Gun Club, Sheriff Ogden said.
In this case, law enforcement officers were able to test those skills in a controlled setting that didn’t hurt the Island’s delicate ecology or disturb neighbors. “We had use of an advanced piece of equipment with zero environmental impact,” Sheriff Ogden said.
The idea came up at a meeting of the 14 county sheriffs, Sheriff Ogden said. He was chatting with Sheriff McDonald about the difficulties of finding places to train on the Vineyard.
“It was a great opportunity to provide mutual aid support to the Island,” Sheriff Ogden said. The 52-foot trailer, brought to the Vineyard on a Steamship Authority ferry, is self-contained and the lead particulate from bullets is filtered, he said.
Lt. Jon Cristea said more than 7,000 rounds of ammunition were spent during the training sessions, which he quickly calculated at 180 pounds of bullets. For neighbors, which at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport are businesses, it sounded like “a nail gun at a construction site,” Sheriff Ogden said, the trailer walls deadening the shooting sounds.
During the sessions, training officers were able to simulate different lighting conditions, as well as add sirens and emergency lights to the mix — something officers are likely to encounter in an emergency situation, but can’t really practice on a firing range, Lt. Greg Arpin, a sheriff’s deputy, said. Officers were also tested on decision-making skills, having to make quick decisions on whether they were faced with a “shoot, no shoot” scenario, where officers had to identify threats and things that aren’t a threat, he said.
“We try to make it as realistic as possible,” Lt. Arpin said. “It offers that distractionary capability that you can’t do at the Rod and Gun Club. It offers different environments you can train in . . . It’s not as much of a training drill as it is a decision-making drill.”
Police officers are required to qualify under realistic conditions, Lt. Arpin said. This provided the training for that, he said.
It was also a way for officers to evaluate their equipment, Lt. Cristea said. “Some people were saying I need to get a new flashlight,” he said. “You’re not going to learn that until you use it.”
At a range, there is no opportunity for simulations like getting out of your cruiser. “You see how most police departments train,” he said. “It’s static. You shoot at a target, shoot center mass, get your score, and go home,” Sheriff Ogden said.
Aquinnah, Tisbury, West Tisbury, and Chilmark police departments took advantage of the training. Oak Bluffs and Edgartown did not, although members of their tactical unit were on hand.
“I was very disappointed that Oak Bluffs and Edgartown did not send some of their officers here and they didn’t really give a good explanation why,” Sheriff Ogden said. “It was a free service from the sheriff’s office. Nobody turns down free.”
Oak Bluffs Chief Erik Blake did not return a message seeking comment. Edgartown Chief David Rossi is away at training and could not be reached.
Not only did Aquinnah officers participate, but Chief Rhandi Belain also gave it a try.
“The Aquinnah Police Department has limited opportunity to participate in low light firearms training due to the limited venues to conduct the training, so having the opportunity to take part in this training was beneficial to the department,” Chief Belain said. “Overall I felt the training was well taught and the use of the mobile firearms trailer was a great opportunity for the Aquinnah Police Department to participate in.”
Tisbury Sgt. Christopher Habekost echoed those comments.
“It was very valuable training,” Sgt. Habekost said, noting all but two officers who were unavailable participated. “Any time we can get more training, it’s worth its weight in gold.”
The simulations were effective and realistic, he said. “That is something that’s hard to simulate in real life because typically places we can shoot, Rod and Gun Club and Goodale’s, are usually restricted to daylight hours.”
Sheriff Ogden thanked Plymouth Assistant Superintendent James Muscato, Capt. Pat Charette, and Deputy Pat Corcoran for making the training happen by getting the trailer to the Island.
Mr. Muscato, who coordinated the effort on behalf of Sheriff McDonald, said they like to share the firearms trailer with other departments. “It’s a great tool in the sense that they’re able to save money on overtime,” he said. “(Officers) are able to practice firing and under stressful conditions.”
Sheriff Ogden also thanked his deputies, Lt. Arpin and Lt. Cristea. “These two guys were amazing,” Sheriff Ogden said. “The hours they put into this was amazing.”
The sheriff said he’s hoping to bring the trailer back next year, but he would like to have towns pitch in to pay for it. He estimates it cost his department $5,000 to bring the equipment to the Island. “Obviously my budget is tight,” he said. “We’ll take a consensus and see if they’ll support it.”
The idea would be to bring it over for two weeks, he said.
“It really showed a community come together to support public service,” Sheriff Ogden said.