By Jean Lotus
Interest is growing among 23 Triton College feeder communities for a shared police training facility and shooting range hosted at the River Grove campus.
The community college recently sent a survey to police chiefs and village managers in 25 different towns asking about a possible shared facility, and almost all of them responded that they were open to discussing the possibility.
The idea of a shared facility was hatched when Oak Park's police chief, Rick Tanksley, told Village President Anan Abu-Taleb the shooting range in the lower level of Oak Park's village hall had outlived its usefulness and required a $300,000 upgrade. The shooting range was installed in 1976 and mechanized targets have stopped working and require parts that are no longer manufactured.
The idea to share the costs of a new facility with Forest Park, Oak Park and River Forest was tossed around between village presidents Abu-Taleb, Cathy Adduci and Forest Park Mayor Anthony Calderone. The Triton idea came out of those initial discussions.
The State of Illinois requires all police officers to complete at least one firearms training certification class yearly, and most area departments ask their officers to complete two or three. Officers also participate in off-site training for car pursuit simulations, as well as other virtual scenario exercises.
At a recent luncheon event featuring the three village leaders, Calderone said it was Adduci's idea to propose Triton as a site for the facility, noting that feeder communities could share the costs.
"I'm often looking for ways to use our shared resources," Adduci said. "It helps to find economies of scale that can help us get training for our public safety officers."
Calderone said Forest Park officers train wherever they can find scheduled space at neighboring gun ranges.
Triton sent a survey to police chiefs, village managers and public safety officers in the area, and most were interested in exploring the idea.
Twenty-five respondents completed the survey, including police representatives from Forest Park, Elmwood Park, the Proviso communities, Oak Park, River Forest, Brookfield, Riverside and North Riverside. The departments ranged from towns with a handful of sworn officers to the Cook County Sheriff's department, which has 500 officers, plus another 6,000 court and correctional officers.
Triton hosts the Sheriff's Police Academy facilities, but they have no shooting range on campus.
The current proposal is a "tactical training facility" located on the Triton campus with a state-of-the-art 24-position shooting range.
Triton has a well-respected criminal justice associate's degree that produces some of the areas recruits.
Most departments budget between $5,000-$15,000 annually for service weapons qualification and training, according to the survey. But that figure is not just for rental of shooting range time.
Police Chief Tom Weitzel of Riverside said that amount included overtime pay for officers and ammunition costs for 9 mm and 40 caliber service weapons.
"Ammunition is extremely expensive," Weitzel said.
Area departments, especially those with smaller police forces make due with renting shooting range time in neighboring towns. Riverside's cops use the shooting range in North Riverside for their pistol practice three times a year and travel to an outdoor range in Lemont to practice with larger weapons such as AR-15 and shotguns.
"If Triton were to build the right type of range, you could do them all inside," Weitzel said.
Riverside police also share a rented virtual scenario truck with the Brookfield Zoo police to train in "judgment laser shooting," he said.
"It's a virtual shoot/don't shoot movie screen training that actually shoots pepper balls back at you," Weitzel said. "It's really good training — but expensive."
Weitzel and 21 other police representatives said they'd like to see a Triton facility provide the laser shooting screens, as well as driver simulator testing to practice for police pursuit driving.
The Oak Park police have in the past proposed outsourcing the police training to the City of Berwyn police department facility, which costs $150 per hour or about $10,000 per year.
Police training technology has improved over the years, in part driven by grants from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Sixty-four percent of the departments surveyed also asked for mock streetscape technology. Other suggestions were leadership training, firearms training from a vehicle, felony traffic stop scenarios, water-based courses, tactical room entry, building searches and rapid deployment training.
Calderone pointed out Triton could even do concealed-carry training for civilians.