NEW BRAINTREE - It’s every officer’s worst nightmare. A disheveled man watches from his second-floor perch as the two officers gingerly approach. Just as they walk past a van parked in the driveway, the man opens fire.
The officers, suddenly without cover, run to the house as the gunman’s wife emerges from the front door, yelling, “Help me, I’ve been shot! My husband, he’s been drinking. Don’t hurt him!’’
The frightening scene was part of a training exercise at the State Police Academy last week, a nonlethal replication of the chaos that can unfold in the blink of an eye on any given day in the real world of police work. A blotch of orange paint dotted the chest of one trainee and the clear face visor of his partner, indicating they probably would have sustained fatal or near-fatal wounds.
“Here is where you want to correct the mistakes, because mistakes on the job can cost lives,’’ said Captain David Otte, the lead drill instructor on campus.
There are 208 trainees here, the largest class ever, and they are being trained unlike any before them. Six years have passed since there last was a class, and in that time, officials say, the duties of the trooper have expanded. Keeping an eye out for terrorism mixes with virtually every part of the job. In cities like Brockton, troopers are called on to help quell nagging gang violence. And in some rural towns, they are the sole police force, officials said.
‘Here is where you want to correct the mistakes, because mistakes on the job can cost lives.’
Cadets now face 75 training scenarios. Prior classes went through four.
Colonel Marian McGovern, the State Police superintendent, said in an interview at the academy that troopers are increasingly being called on to meet new demands.
“The state is moving toward casinos, for example, so we’ll have a very big role there, in developing a unit that would focus on that.’’
The dramatic increase in the number of training scenarios arose, ironically, during those six years in which a lean state budget did not allow for the funding of additional state troopers. The campus did not sit dormant during that time, as it was used to train municipal police, college police, and other law enforcement officers from throughout the state. State Police officials took notice of the tactics and procedures used by the Municipal Police Training Committee, which regulates training for municipal police.
“We’re taking their best practices and applied them to our own practices, and that’s how we got to seventy-five,’’ said Sergeant Mike Lyver, the director of training.
The current class started Oct. 17. The training academy runs 21 weeks, and graduation is set for March 9 at the DCU Center in Worcester. The 75 scenarios are presented from week 14 to 19, with 15 stations each day.
In the domestic violence situation, the cadets’ best move would have been to retreat behind the van for cover and coax the injured wife over, according to instructors who monitored the exercise. Based on the wife’s statements, the supervisor said, the trainees should have determined that they faced a barricaded gunman best left to the expertise of a special entry team. The instructor huddled with the trainees immediately after the exercise to talk them through the best response.
In another scenario, trainees walk up to a car parked on the side of the road and question a visibly nervous driver. “What we want them to do here, and in every scene they come upon, is to take in visual cues and their surroundings, get the whole view,’’ said Trooper Charles Luise, a trainer. About 30 feet directly in front of the car, a mannequin representing an overdosed person who had been dumped off by the driver lay on the ground.
All around this sprawling 800-acre academy in the hills of this rural Worcester County town, instructors were monitoring trainees in simulated police work, from simple traffic stops to a suspicious bag left at a post office.
The climate is similar to that of a military boot camp, with canteen-toting trainees marching and running in single file and standing at parade rest outside the chow hall.
The days start with physical training at 5:30 a.m. and end at 9:30 p.m. The trainees stay on campus throughout the week but can return home on weekends. There are comprehensive exams every three weeks, focusing on criminal law and procedure, motor vehicle law, and officer safety.
The class consists of 132 trainees with military experience and 87 former municipal officers. There are and five women. Training pay is $421 a week.
Since 2006, more than 500 troopers have retired, leaving the department with about 2,050 sworn officers. As a result of the retirements, requests for time off are routinely denied.
The State Police operating budget dropped from $257 million in 2009 to $228 million last fiscal year. The training costs about $5.5 million per cycle; funding for the training is coming from a variety of sources, including federal grants.
Trainees Erin McLaughlin, 25, and Pierre M. Joseph, 31, talked about their most memorable experiences. Both hold college degrees but have never served as police officers.
“Day one, when we first sat there and got the speech, and the senior drill sergeant jumped on the desk and what seemed like 4,000 drill instructors came out of nowhere and blocked the entire room . . . that just terrified everyone,’’ Joseph said. “I’ll never forget that day.’’
McLaughlin referred to the scenario training.
“Some mistakes were made, but positives are coming out of that. Those things are going to stick with me and help me when I get out on the road.’’