WHITESTOWN — Equipped with training weapons and tactical gear, members of the Utica Metro SWAT team walked through the pitch black Rosterfield Mall at the state Preparedness Training Center Wednesday in search of two gunmen hiding among the empty stores.
The role-players hiding among the fake shelves couldn’t see their hands in front of their faces in the darkened mall. But to Utica Metro, the mall was bathed in the bright green glow of night-vision goggles, the latest technological advancement for the state Training Center in Whitestown.
“A lot of agencies don’t get a chance to train with them in an environment they’re not familiar with,” said Bob Stallman, assistant director of the Preparedness Training Center.
“When you just train with your own people in your own location all the time, you always do the same thing. You’re not getting that other point of view. That’s what we have the ability to do. We make teams better.”
Night vision training is the newest scenario at the Center’s annual Tactical Week, now entering its third year. Eight SWAT teams from police agencies across the state took part in seven different training scenarios this week. Along with the night vision training, there was also a hostage rescue, a workplace active shooter scenario and more.
“We have different venues that they don’t have in their jurisdiction. We also have the instructional staff that we bring in from all over the state,” Stallman said, highlighting the unique advantage of training at the Center.
The Utica Metro team was joined this week by SWAT teams from the Binghamton, Colonie, New Rochelle, Troy and White Plains police departments, as well as the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and the Westchester County Police Department.
“Now they’re getting a chance to work with different agencies that they have maybe never worked with before,” Stallman stated.
“They all do the same challenges and have the same problems, so they can talk to one another.”
Along with the training, Tactical Week also features a competition between the agencies to help motivate the officers to try their very best. Stallman explained that most tactical training is fairly similar between agencies, and most agencies do quite well in the training scenarios.
So in order to spice it up a little, some of the scenarios and the physical challenges are timed and rated, and a winning agency is crowned at the end of the week.
“It’s a challenge. At the end of the day there’s the top team. We’d like to be the top team. Hopefully we are, but if not, no big deal. It’s great training,” said Lt. James Holt of the Utica Metro SWAT team, which is comprised of officers from the Utica and New Hartford police department’s, as well as the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office.
“It adds a little bit of something. We’re here for the training, but that challenge is cool,” Holt stated. “It would be awesome to come away with that trophy.”
Holt said the Utica Metro SWAT team has their own night-vision goggles and they train with them when they can. But the life-like scenarios at the Training Center are far more advanced in what can be accomplished.
“This is a SWAT operator’s dream here. There’s all different venues here, all different great instructors here,” Holt stated.
“Everybody does things a little bit different. There’s a thousand ways to slice a pie, and it’s the same way with the way police do things. We’re able to bring our tactics, employ our tactics, and then also see what other teams do. Maybe they do something a little bit better than we do, or a little bit different than we do. So we’re able to take something away from them. It’s just great.”