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Three Essential Traits of a Modern Law Enforcement Training Facility

By Karen LeBlanc, Architects Design Group Inc., Winter Park, Florida

oday’s sophisticated law enforcement training requirements are changing not only the way police learn but also the buildings in which they learn. “Training is much more multidisciplinary,” says Captain Rick Hanna of the Gainesville, Florida Police Department. “Police, fire and other responders must train together to respond to modern-day issues such as homeland security threats, the pandemic flu, natural disasters, and other crises.” The 500-member Gainesville police agency is planning to construct a new 16,000-square-foot community police and training facility to meet the complex demands of law enforcement today. “The design is multiuse to accommodate joint training between police and fire as well as outside agencies in the region,” explains Hanna.

The Gainesville Police Department contracted Architects Design Group Inc. (ADG), a firm based in Winter Park, Florida, that specializes in public safety architecture to program and design the new facility. ADG evaluated the Gainesville police force’s space needs and is designing the new training facility based on the department’s need for certain capabilities. “A multidepartment training facility fosters a higher caliber of law enforcement instruction,” says ADG President I. S. K. Reeves V. “Other law enforcement or public safety agencies can share in the cost and use of the space and together can afford better qualified trainers.”

The Gainesville Police Department’s new training complex will also include an 8,400-square-foot facility for scenario-based training with a firearms simulation system, an indoor fire arms range, and mock residence, school, and hotel environments. “We put a lot of thought into equipping our facility with real world capabilities,” says Hanna. The scenario-based training facility will sit next door to a new two-story complex with classrooms, a possible mock courtroom, and first-floor community meeting rooms. “It will be unique because it marries our community policing and training capabilities in the same complex,” says Hanna.

As more and more law enforcement agencies outgrow their in-house training rooms, many are acknowledging the benefits of larger, shared training space. A multidisciplinary facility can give employees the tools to grow, improve staff retention, produce higher quality training, and facilitate the accreditation process. For many law enforcement agencies, joint-use training facilities are a necessity to meet modern-day training demands.

A federal government mandate requiring scenario-based training has rendered many in-house law enforcement training facilities inadequate, lacking the space and resources to accommodate real-life training. Also, recent events such as terrorist attacks and hurricanes have demonstrated the interdependence of police, fire, and other responders. Municipalities and regional governments recognize the need to collaborate and to respond from a multidisciplinary standpoint. Cities and municipalities must be in compliance with NIMS (National Incident Management System) standards for coordinated communication and response to receive federal funding.

“All this means is we need to think of combined-use facilities,” says Boca Raton Police Chief Dan Alexander. As the head of 198 sworn officers and 105 civilian employees of the Boca Raton Police Services Department, Alexander is involved in the planning and design of the Boca Raton International Center for Leadership and Development (ICLAD). The city purchased a former office building with law enforcement trust funds and through an adaptive reuse design is converting the building to house ICLAD. ADG worked with the police department to provide all of the initial planning and design services. The Boca Raton Police Services Department will manage the facility, which includes an auditorium, nine classrooms, and a defensive tactics area available for regional use on the local, state, and federal level.

“I think a training center that involves multiple levels of government increases training efficiency and effectiveness,” says Alexander. “The return on investment is increased public safety, highly trained staff, and better employee retention.”

Also driving the need for more sophisticated law enforcement training is the emergence of so-called professional cops, a new generation of law enforcement officers entering the ranks with college degrees in criminal justice and other disciplines. “This new culture of law enforcement poses greater challenges,” says Hanna. “We have to keep them professionally motivated through sophisticated training for staff retention. These officers are recruited vigorously and tend to change jobs frequently.”

Police agencies are increasing their scope of services to deal with global threats such as terrorism and technology crimes such as Internet fraud and online predators. “These new issues have increased the need for knowledge and training in areas that we would not have dealt with 10 years ago,” says Alexander. “The jack-of-all-trades is a thing of the past. Law enforcement has become highly specialized.”

It’s these changing times that Architects Design Group Inc. has witnessed firsthand in its work with many public safety agencies. “What we’re finding is that most law enforcement agencies have training rooms that aren’t maximized for the greatest return on investment and use,” says Reeves. He is referring to the typical community or muster room where law enforcement personnel receive daily briefings. “Neither of these two spaces lends itself to training because it doesn’t meet the technology and space requirements for activities such as computer simulation, multimedia presentations, and high-volume spaces for physical activities,” says Reeves.

As specialists in public safety training facilities, Architects Design Group Inc. has identified three essential criteria for the design of a modern-day training facility. “Today’s law enforcement training facility must be flexible, survivable and multidisciplinary to meet current and future needs,” says Reeves.

Flexibility: Evaluating Raw Square Footage for Optimum Use
Computer-based emerging technologies such as gun range simulators and scenariobased training require flexible, flat spaces. ‘It’s important to examine the types of space and the volume of space rather than just raw square footage when evaluating your spatial needs or considering the adaptive reuse of an existing facility,” says Reeves. ADG designed the Boca training facility as an adaptive reuse of an existing building that had been used for light manufacturing. “The building had qualities that made it easily adaptable for training such as high ceilings that allowed a lot of flexibility on how police and fire personnel could use interior volume space,” says ADG Senior Vice President Kevin Ratigan, lead architect on the project.

The facility was programmed and designed to accommodate an indoor shooting range, flexible spaces for police services training, classrooms, an auditorium, a gymnasium, and a fitness center. “We are seeing a big trend toward gyms and fitness centers because more and more public safety agencies are placing a higher priority on the health and well-being of first responders,” says Ratigan. Because of this priority, many newer facilities also contain rooms for medical and fitness testing, space for job candidate evaluation, and offices for medical personnel such as physicians and dietitians. Boca Raton’s joint training facility gym was designed to include flexible space for training scenarios and community use such as police athletic league programs.

In the event of a disaster, the training facility can coordinate the city’s communications and emergency operations. That capability leads us to the second criterion for training facilities: survivability.

Survivability: Designing for Disaster Operations
A well-designed training facility can serve a dual purpose as the community’s command center during a disaster. However, to be functional in this secondary role, the facility must be designed to survive a manmade event or natural disaster.

The new Gainesville facility has been designed with a category 3 rating, capable of withstanding winds between 111 and 130 mph. It will be constructed for survivability with backup power, a kitchen, bathrooms, and laundry facilities. “We will have the ability to house and take care of our employees’ families in the event of a crisis,” says Hanna.

This survivability factor was put to the test during the Florida hurricane season of 2004 in an ADG-designed public safety facility for the city of Winter Park. “When hurricane Charley swept through central Florida, the Winter Park Police Department’s survivable shell space was able to house and sustain the family members of police personnel while they performed vital emergency services,” says Reeves. “The end result was a 100 percent employee response during the storm as people reported to work knowing that their family members were safe and secure.”

Reeves and his team of architects, working with Chief Alexander while he was still with the Cape Coral Police Department, have recently designed a new Cape Coral public safety building, including separate training components for the police and fire departments. Within these training departments is secondary space to house food service, restrooms, lockers, showers. “You can’t just think of this as a classroom environment; you have to design a training facility as a whole functioning unit,” says Reeves.

This new breed of multidisciplinary training facility can incorporate elements such as a survival city, a training tower, a vehicle operations course, and classrooms accessible to all responders and government in general. In addition to the joint-use training complex, Boca Raton, with assistance from ADG, programmed and planned a survival city on a 19.5-acre tract of land to include a fire training tower, an emergency vehicle operations course, mock storefronts for scenario training, a railroad car that can be used for hazmat training, and other amenities.

Multidisciplinary: Shared Training Stays Local or Goes Regional?
Today’s multidisciplinary training curriculums require joint-use training facilities. The decision about whether to create a training facility for local or regional use boils down to the economics for all entities involved.

“Training facilities that reap the biggest cost advantages are the ones that generate revenue by making themselves available to other agencies,” says Ratigan. A regional training facility can charge rental and admission fees or invite other agencies to share in the cost of qualified trainers.

Typically, most regional training facilities are associated with community colleges but there is a drawback. “With these regional training facilities, you have to schedule in your department training and there is limited space and availability,” says Hanna. “If we would have 24/7 access to a large or regional training facility, we could avoid pulling officers off patrols for certain types of federally mandated training.”

Regional training facilities can be beneficial for police departments that want to share tools and resources such as the processing of highly complex evidence through DNA evaluation. A regional training facility allows departments to pool their resources to afford better technology, nationally known teachers, and more diverse training curriculums.

“A regional training facility can be more problematic because a group of departments must reach a consensus on price and usage,” says Reeves. Despite its challenges, Reeves believes the future demand for regional training facilities will place many within the realm of public safety agencies.

Planning for a Police Training Facility: The Next Step
Funding remains the biggest political stumbling block for most law enforcement agencies in the creation of a new training facility. The challenge is to build a convincing case for the public expenditure with the voting public. “As a police chief, determine if there is support within the municipality to come up with the seed money for the process,” says Reeves. Once seed money is secured, the next step is to seek out matching grants and other agencies interested in sharing in the funding and development of a training facility.

“When you’re looking for the seed money, examine other community needs that could be co-located with this training facility. This provides the inertia to get the project going,” says Ratigan. In addition to lowering costs, partnerships with other agencies can improve public service.

“I think it’s important not only to tailor your program to meet internal needs but also to consider the benefits of partnering with a variety of other entities to improve service delivery,” says Hanna.

ADG also encourages law enforcement to be inventive and open minded when planning for a training facility. For example, a city police department can offset the costs by including space to house city administration offices. A new training facility also could house joint evidence processing or serve as command base for a multijurisdictional task force. Reeves also advises his clients not to reinvent the wheel but rather rely on proven facilities. “Tour other facilities, interview the users and learn what works. Learn from other people’s mistakes.”



From The Police Chief, vol. 73, no. 11, November 2006. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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