Will OP police enter 'The Matrix'?

Police chief envisions virtual-reality training facility at village hall

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

The echoes of gunshots can be faintly heard emanating from the basement of village hall on any given day and sometimes, depending on where you stand, not so faintly. The noise is from a decades-old police shooting range that has fallen into such disrepair that the mechanical systems that move the targets no long work. 

Oak Park Police Chief Rick Tanksley says the shooting range — which police use a combined 66 hours a year for firearms certification — is broken, outdated and underutilized. He has pushed for paying a neighboring police department to use its gun range and pursuing grants to open a virtual reality-style, scenario-based training facility that would take the existing shooting range's place.

"That space for the majority of the year is empty, so how can we use it in ongoing weekly training in which we can invite others to participate?" Tanksley said during a recent tour of the gun range.

The firearms-training computer system Tanksley favors places police in virtual scenarios by projecting video images onto large, white moveable screens. 

"It's a computerized, scenario-training system in which an officer would enter onto a platform with five screens, and it's almost like virtual reality," he said. "People would appear and a scenario would unfold involving a shoot/don't shoot situation."

Tanksley said the system not only trains police in shooting accuracy, but also when not to shoot. He stressed that the idea for such a project is preliminary and no costs have been determined. Such a system, however, could cost up to $260,000. If the department does pursue the virtual training facility, he said, it would try to pay for the project primarily through grant funding.

The village included $350,000 in its budget the last several years to replace the outdated shooting range, but Tanksley said the department delayed using the money because it had not developed a plan for the renovations. In November, Tanksley gave trustees a tour of the shooting range and later testified at a village board meeting that such training should be outsourced to the Berwyn Police Department. He said the Berwyn station would charge $150 an hour for use of the facility, at a total cost of about $10,000 annually.

Village President Anan Abu-Taleb, at a board meeting in November, said he had also spoken to the president and mayor of River Forest and Forest Park, respectively, and both expressed interest in the concept of building a joint facility to be shared by the three departments.

Tanksley said the existing shooting range is adequate for the biannual firearms certification most officers must achieve, but since the mechanical structures that move the targets are no longer operational, officers must walk out onto the shooting range to practice shooting from different distances. He said the motors for the target machines are so old, they no longer make parts to fix them.

Tanksley said the blasts from guns firing can be heard in certain parts of village hall. "If you're in the parking department or at room 101, you hear this booming sound; that's distracting," he said.

Village Manager Cara Pavlicek said gunfire can't be heard in the meeting rooms, but the sound sometime travels through air vents and is audible in the employee break room. "Nobody's ducking under the table," she said, but noted that the shooting range was built with village hall in 1975 and with 116 sworn officers on the force, "That's a lot of use," she said, noting that if the village did invest in upgrading its shooting range, it also could charge officers from other departments to train there.

Tanksley said he plans to return to the village board in January with an update on the proposal.

Email: tim@oakpark.com

Reader Comments

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Steve from Oak Park  

Posted: December 30th, 2013 10:19 AM

The village could save money by combining the police's shooting range with the shooting gallery next door.

Speedway from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 28th, 2013 7:58 PM

I like the idea of a joint venture with Forest Park and River Forest. If the range is not to be used all the time the cost for a single payer ie. Oak Park is enormous.

Brian Slowiak from Oak Park  

Posted: December 28th, 2013 10:43 AM

Brridgett. my mistake and I have been on the range numerous times. ,, Off. David Chapman taught Matrix like training big screen electronic guns in the same room decades ago.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: December 27th, 2013 9:25 PM

Really, Done from OP, you're babbling. Your point?

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: December 27th, 2013 8:51 PM

@Brian, the sign says "do not use," not "do not enter." I think the sign saying "do not use. out of service" is on a specific target. Not the entire room.

Done from Oak Park  

Posted: December 27th, 2013 1:57 PM

I say build them a new $10M building with underground parking on Madison so that we can enhance Madison St. Maybe it can share the D97 building - oh no, bad idea. OK - new building. Underground parking. Is there any TIF money left for this? While we are at it, how about a new building for the people who sell garbage stickers? With underground parking. Hell, everyone needs a new building! Let the digging begin! And put them all on Madison because a shooting range will enhance Madison.


Posted: December 27th, 2013 12:00 PM

I would prefer to pay for this for our police officers than a new admin build g for a handful of paper pushers at d97.

Brian Slowiak from Oak Park  

Posted: December 25th, 2013 2:00 PM

Strange. The sign says "Do not enter" and " out of service" yet the police use the range 66 hours a year. strange.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: December 24th, 2013 10:58 PM

One thing that the Chief mentioned was that the typical scenarios that officers face are domestic, in close quarters. So distance target shooting isn't the best training. This virtual training facility would allow officers to train in more relevant situations. The end result are better trained officers.

joe from south oak park  

Posted: December 24th, 2013 2:05 PM

I think that the unwritten point here is that if the target holders were updated the range would have to be upgraded to current OSHA standards. This includes standards for air quality and filters. This is why they can't just replace the target holders. It also begs the question... Does the +$200k bill for the new virtual range include the environmental cleanup of the lead in the old range?

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