Officers work through a drill where they have to shoot a suspect from a seated position. (NASA Photo / Tom Tschida) › View Larger Image
Dryden Protective Services officers see a suspicious man who was possibly armed and dangerous enter a building.
Officers knock on the door and ask the suspect to surrender. There is no response. They draw their weapons and enter one at a time, quickly sweeping through the building. In the last room the officers search they find the suspect, who surrenders without a fight.
Trainer David Spencer, left, goes over the parameters of the exercise with Davin Link, Hugo Orozco, Juan Carrillo, and John Theisen. (NASA Photo / Tom Tschida) › View Larger Image The man was one of their trainers, Matt Rieck, the building was Trailer 42 and the exercise allowed Protective Services officers to obtain the kind of training they don't usually have the ability to do.
As dilapidated buildings have come up for removal, Protective Services personnel have been permitted to use them for training. Since Trailer 42 is scheduled for destruction, Protective Services Personnel have inquired if another building will be available for similar training exercises, which are all completed at no cost to NASA.
Walking through Trailer 42, the blue paint spots on the wall indicate where former drills have taken place and why it would not be practical to have the drills in functional Dryden offices. It is through this grownup version of cops and robbers that the officers learn what it's like to work through a weapons malfunction in the middle of a shootout, or learn the best way to approach a suspect with maximum view for the officer and minimum ability for the perpetrator to attack the officer.
"It's one thing to shoot a target on a range and something else to have to use those skills as events are unfolding and ever changing," said David Spencer, who is the Dryden Protective Services site manager. Spencer also is an investigator and trainer, as is Rieck, who is the Protective Services site manager at the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale.
"The goal is to give officers the opportunity to experience scenarios they might really find themselves in. If they see the scenario, it will be easier for them to react," said Rieck, who is certified in defensive training, as a range master and has a Master of Business Administration degree in leadership.
Protective Services officers find and capture a suspect in their training exercise. (NASA Photo / Tom Tschida) › View Larger Image There are a number of skills that are honed through such exercises.
"We want to enhance their weapon handling skills. We are able to do things here that we can't do on the Air Force range and you wouldn't want to do with live ammunition. This gives reality-based training with built-in safety mechanisms so no one gets hurt," said Spencer, who is a graduate of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Weapons and Tactics, or FBI SWAT, School and a 12-year member of the El Segundo, Calif., SWAT Team.
A number of precautions are taken to ensure the training is completed with no more than a welt as a reminder that the officers need to learn from the situation that caused the welt. Officers' guns carry special ammunition for the drills that leaves a blue paint spot on the person or wall it hits. The bullets are specially marked and the guns are modified so actual bullets will not fit into the assembled training weapon.
If it seems that Protective Services officers are more svelte than they used to be, it's because they are. About five years ago the Dryden Protective Services Office instituted a program they call the Security Officer Fundamentals Certification Course.
Protective Services trainer David Spencer, left, shows Anthony Garcia a good technique for spotting the suspect that gives the least view of the officer. (NASA Photo / Tom Tschida) › View Larger Image New officers are required to complete two weeks of training - a full 80 hours. Of those hours, 40 hours are academics about state and federal law, the use of force, arrest powers and a written test that officers must score at least 80 percent. The other 40 hours are instruction in defensive tactics including use of force, handcuffs, strikes, kicks and techniques to escape if a suspect has the officer on the ground during a fight. Another element of that training is a two-minute, non-stop, fight drill with instructors using batons, boxing gloves and kicks.
In addition, officers are encouraged to work out and eat healthy year around and their fitness is tested annually with an obstacle course. Protective Services officers also are required to have a California weapons permit and guard card.
Spencer and Rieck annually go to Kennedy Space Center, Fla., where instructional seminars are available and new training plans and scenarios are looked at for practicality, feasibility, the safety plan and real-life feel.
Many training exercises are based on real-life situations. For example, one training session had officers sit at a table and communicate visually and orally and engage targets. It was derived from a coffee shop incident outside Seattle, where a random gunman killed four officers sitting at a table without the officers having a chance to fire a single shot.
"Training is critical to deal with problems, so it becomes second nature to the officer when they are in a similar situation," Spencer said.