Area law-enforcement agencies take their weapons seriously. The Oklahoma City Police Department arsenal contains nearly 3,000 handguns, rifles, machine guns and other weapons, while a fully-equipped Oklahoma County Sheriff tactical team member is armed with upwards of $13,000 worth of weapons and tactical gear when called to duty. "Our philosophy is if you're going to a real gunfight, take a real gun,” said Capt. Marshall McDonald, an Oklahoma County Sheriff tac team commander and instructor. They have all the guns, grenades and gadgets of any of the silver screen shooting machines at their fingertips, but the world of law enforcement weapons and tactics is hardly Hollywood. A good day is one without gunfire. "Deadly force is a last resort,” Oklahoma City police Lt. David Ellis said. Most times, tac team members have only a heartbeat to decide if that last resort is needed.
Making the teamTires squealing as cars cut sharp turns at 90 mph, the booms of exploding bombs and fully automatic weapon fire may sound like something out of a James Bond movie, but it's part of the training tac team members statewide do at the Oklahoma County sheriff's training compound. The compound, however, is a calm, controlled environment and regarded as one of the top nonmilitary training compounds in Oklahoma. Getting on the tac team isn't easy. It took some of the 20 tac team members from the Oklahoma County sheriff's office two or three tries before they made it, they said. They had to: •Volunteer for the job •Be a full-time, certified deputy •Pass a day-long physical test that includes a timed run, upper-body strength test and quarter-mile military obstacle course run •Shoot 85 percent or better on handgun and shotgun drills •Pass a weapons handling test •Complete a simulated tactical mission in full gear •Be interviewed by other team members •Receive approval by Sheriff John Whetsel•Attend a week of basic training
Constant trainingMcDonald said the sheriff's tac team was called to duty twice in a week on one occasion, but also has gone more than a year without seeing real action. He said the number of times they are deployed annually is hard to pinpoint, but it's usually about six. "Somebody has to act really stupid for us to come out. It has to be strangely outside the norm,” McDonald said. But the preparation never stops. The sheriff's tac trains at the compound twice a month and attends one week of advanced training a year. "This is what you don't see in the movies,” McDonald said. During an October training session at the compound and other locations in the county, instructors put teams from across the state through drills from 8 a.m. until midnight. Their movements were swift, often taking only seconds to take control of the simulated crisis situations. At the compound, they learn the limits of their vehicles on a 2.3 mile asphalt driving track so they can outwit the average pursuit suspect. Bomb technicians are taught to dismantle explosives, sometimes with the aid of a motorized bomb robot controlled from a metal briefcase. Snipers shoot bullets between the eyes of dummies — or would-be hostage takers — from hundreds of yards away. The 300-acre compound also has a firing range, a gravel road track to simulate rural pursuits, bomb bunkers, a rappelling wall, classrooms and other buildings used for room-entry drills.
A day at schoolInstructors emphasize training in real world environments, such as empty schools and office buildings. Instructors took team members to Western Heights High School in October for force-on-force training. Students were on fall break. The weapons they used were replicas of the assault rifles and handguns tac team members carry in the field, but were made to shoot harmless paint-tipped cartridges. Members of one four-man team wearing protective masks and body armor inched down a hallway during training, ducking in and out of lockers and doorways. The first man in the line held a large protective shield, his rifle resting on its top, while the team searched for a gunman — a role played by another tac team member hiding in an empty classroom. The team commander spotted a shadow and whispered: "He's on the right side of the hall.” Then a barrage of shots rang out from the gunman, hitting the team's shield as the gunman leaped across the dark hall. Team members used hand motions to indicate the suspect had crossed the hall to another classroom. They stormed the room using the shield as cover and fired on the suspect when he shot at them after ignoring orders to drop his weapon. "Suspect down!” one yelled. The suspect was shot about a dozen times and most of the paint bullets he fired were absorbed by the shield. One deputy was shot. "I was the first one to the door, and I took a round here,” the team commander said, pointing to the pink blot on his shoulder. "No biggie.” The tac team member playing the suspect said he did his best to act like a lunatic, since that's the type of person they usually encounter. "As soon as they came around the corner, I just opened up on them,” he said.
Less lethalWhen officers encounter a situation that doesn't require tac teams or deadly force, they can use less lethal weapons and tactics. The Oklahoma City Police Department has 158 tasers and 35 bean bag shotguns in the field and officers must take training courses that are more about decision-making than actually firing the weapons. "It gives us something between lethal and verbal confrontation,” said Master Sgt. Bruce Webster, who teaches city police officers when and how to use less lethal weapons. "We're simply looking for just a change in behavior,” Webster said. "If he's swinging a hoe or a rake and we hit him with a taser and he stands in place, that gives us our opportunity to move in and take him down.” Webster said officers are trained to avoid shooting the spine when firing tasers and bean bag shotguns, instead focusing on the legs and arms. "It's a non-Hollywood hit,” he said.
Not your average gameOklahoma City police employ a computer-based training device called FATS, Firearms Training System, which uses a laser-guided handgun and a large video screen to train officers in use-of-force judgment. The instructor controls what the characters on the screen do and requires trainees to interact with the virtual characters and make the split-second decisions that are the difference between saving a life or losing one. "It's difficult to think, speak and coordinate your actions at one time,” Ellis said. "We teach how to with FATS.” In one scenario, the trainee is dispatched to a domestic disturbance where a wife is reported to have stabbed her husband. The intoxicated woman exits the house and verbally threatens the training officer, then reaches into her back pocket and produces — a whiskey bottle. The trainee fails the drill if shots are fired. "When we talk about weapons, people think it's about shooting and it's about killing people and it's about stuff you see in Hollywood. It's not,” Ellis said.
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Tactical team members enter a classroom at Western Heights High School during a recent training session at the school. BY JOHN CLANTON, THE OKLAHOMAN
What's in the arsenal?Among the 2,816 weapons in the Oklahoma City Police Department's arsenal are: •1,053 semi automatics •853 revolvers •555 shotguns •264 pistols •58 rifles •15 fully automatics •2 submachine guns Strange weapons Included in the department's arsenal are hundreds of seemingly odd weapons — such as German Lugers, Walther PPKs like the ones made famous in James Bond movies and an Italian Terni rifle — that police use for ballistics analysis during shooting investigations. Equipment Oklahoma County Sheriff's tac team members carry includes: •.223 caliber assault rifle, primary weapon, with a night-vision scope and silencer •.45 caliber Glock handgun, secondary weapon, mounted with a light and laser sight •.308 caliber sniper rifle with night-vision scope •Body armor •Gilley suit •Noise-flash diversionary devices •Night vision equipment •Camping gear, food and water for long sieges or standoffs Source: Oklahoma City Police Department and Oklahoma County sheriff