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DonCT
11-02-2008, 10:14
A piece I wrote for the local paper.

http://www.acorn-online.com/joomla15/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=11902:how-does-one-become-an-ert-officer-practice&catid=193:columns&Itemid=531

How does one become an ERT officer? Practice.
Written by Donald Eng
Thursday, October 23, 2008
I felt a bit like the Terminator. Or, like he would have felt had he been smaller and less...terminatorish.

Police Sgt. Phil Hynes and I were at the Trumbull shooting range in Indian Ledge Park, where members of the regional Emergency Response Team, which includes officers from Trumbull, Easton, Darien, Wilton and Monroe, were conducting their handgun, rifle and shotgun qualifying. I had volunteered to try my hand at police firearm practice, and found myself wearing a heavy body armor vest with a loaded .45 caliber Glock Model 21 handgun on my right hip, two spare 13-round magazines on my left and carrying a Mossberg shotgun in my hands.

The Glock pistol generated considerable controversy when it was first imported into the country. Critics cited its plastic frame and claimed it would allow the gun to pass undetected through airport security. It didn’t, but the lightweight plastic has made it a favorite among police departments, whose officers typically carry enough equipment on their belts to make Batman envious.

The gun’s manufacturer also claims it has three safety features, but I can only count one. Smack dab in the middle of the trigger, the safety disengages when you pull the trigger, which makes about as much sense to me as having a security lock on your door that disengages when you turn the knob. Still, the Glock has a solid safety record and is the choice of a majority of police departments in the country and is standard issue to many military units, including the U.S.-led Multi-National Force-Iraq.

Hynes did a final check of my portable arsenal, managing not to use the words “Bambi” or “Dukakis” in describing my appearance. I was about to attempt a qualifying score on the basic pistol course, which consists of 60 shots at a target that looks like a bad guy with a gun. Each shot is essentially pass/fail, with a hit in the scoring zone counting as five points. The minimum qualifying score is 240 points out of a possible 300, but the ERT members typically do much better.

I took my place in line, with the real cops to my left. I did pretty well on the first stage, firing from about two arms length without using the pistol’s radioactive green sights, which make night shooting easier. If you can intuitively point your finger at something, you can shoot a target from five feet, and I put all my shots in the scoring area.

Then the course got challenging. The shots got longer, and the stages required more of them, until the qualifiers were shooting at targets 25 yards away from standing and kneeling positions, shooting with the left hand and reloading under the pressure of a stopwatch ticking away.

It quickly became apparent that I was not cut out to be an emergency response officer. I failed to meet minimum standards, scoring 180 out of 300. My shots were drifting high and to the right, demonstrating what I already know: I have the grip strength of a blushing debutante.

For those who failed high school physics, Newton’s Third Law states that every action has an equal but opposite reaction. A .45 pistol fires a half-ounce projectile at about 850 feet per second, meaning my hands were absorbing the exact same amount of kinetic energy as the target, and the pistol’s plastic handle was twisting out of my grip.

Hynes suggested I wrap my left hand around my right, and push with my right hand while pulling with my left, isometrically stabilizing myself using my own body as resistance. (Hynes actually has a rubber sleeve on the grip of his personal pistol, and when I practiced with his, the clunky Glock was transformed and holding it felt as natural as a handshake from your father.)

After trying my hand at shotgun qualifying, which I found much easier despite the 10-inch fireball that erupted from the end of the barrel with each shot, I watched the officers continue their training with the department’s military surplus M-4 rifles while Hynes, Lt. Ron Kirby and Deputy Chief Glenn Byrnes explained details of the day. I had actually participated in the easiest part of the training. Officers also train to shoot at night, using flashlights to illuminate the target. They also practice using plastic trash barrels for cover and firing at moving targets.

Kirby gave an honest assessment of my performance.

“If you were one of our officers, you would be doing quite a few pushups right about now,” he said in a tone of voice stern enough that I nearly dropped to give him 20 on the spot.

Byrnes stressed the importance of training, even though police-involved shootings in Trumbull are rare.

“An officer’s gun is like any other piece of equipment that he carries,” Byrnes said. “Granted, he uses his pen or radio much more often, but in a situation where he needs his sidearm, he needs the confidence in his ability to use it well.”

To that end, the shooting range at Indian Ledge has served the department’s needs perfectly, he said. By constructing the facility, the police no longer have to give officers the day off to travel up to Danbury for annual qualifications. Also, in a worst-case scenario, the officers are still in town should an emergency occur. In that case, they could load up the M-4s in their custom case and stash them in the trunk, right next to the automatic defibrillator, and be ready for just about anything.

When you get right down to it, the trunk of a police cruiser tells you everything you need to know about the diverse responsibilities of being an officer. The gun and the AED, nestled side by side. Talk about a diverse set of responsibilities.