COLUMBIA — The Columbia Police Department on Monday afternoon unveiled its new 9,500-square-foot training facility, which for the first time will give the department its own space to conduct training for its officers and those from other agencies.
The Columbia Police Regional Training Center, located south of town off of U.S. 63, houses two offices, four classrooms, a large garage and an outside training center that provide space and technology not previously available to the department.
“It is a great day in the history of the Columbia Police Department,” Chief Ken Burton said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony held in the large garage on site. “We’re very, very proud of it.”
Members of the Police Department said the new facility will allow the department to improve training for its officers. Before the facility was built, officers were sometimes trained at the National Guard armory and in buildings that were about to be demolished, Public Information Officer Jessie Haden said.
The new facility allows for high-tech simulations and it has enough space to host large classroom trainings.
The classrooms still look and smell as if they have never been used, which is not quite the case. Haden said the department has conducted a few trainings at the facility since July. Construction on the facility started in October 2008.
Several people who attended Monday’s event tried out a firearms simulator, which uses a projection screen to show users various scenarios filmed with actors who pose as potentially dangerous subjects. Using the simulator, officers are tested on their knowledge of department procedures, the prudence of their actions and their proficiency with department-issued weapons.
In one case, the simulator showed a man in an elevator holding another man hostage and pointing a gun at his head. The person using the simulator waited two seconds and shot the man with the gun right in his mouth. A police officer in the room asked if he wanted an application for a job.
Hanging in the hallway connecting the classrooms to the garage is the bulletproof vest worn by Sgt. Shelley Jones when she was struck with a shotgun blast in 1996 in a Gerbes parking lot. Jones survived, and the vest is intended as a reminder for officers to always wear their vests, Haden said.
The project to build the training center was approved by voters in 2005 as part of a capital improvement project. Certain equipment was purchased with grants and donations from groups including the Columbia Police Foundation and the Edward Byrne Memorial State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance Grant Program. Robert M. LeMone, for whom the building is named, donated 2.5 acres for the building, and his construction company did some of the work for free, saving the city about $500,000.
“It’s wonderful to see the community get together to support the Police Department with this,” Mayor Darwin Hindman said.
The personnel, training and development supervisor, Sgt. John Worden, said the department also plans to utilize the new space to host trainings that will be open to law enforcement agencies across the nation. The first, on homicide and crime scene management, will be held in January 2010.
The facility will also be open to local law enforcement agencies, such as the Boone County Sheriff’s Department and the MU Police Department.
City Manager Bill Watkins said the partnerships formed by this shared training will be of benefit not only to the departments but also to the communities they serve.
“Any time we can bring multiple law enforcement agencies together ... it only benefits our citizens,” he said.