EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

July 10, 2007

Sharpshooters: Methuen Police head into the woods for weapons training

METHUEN - To stay sharp using the department's arsenal of guns, police officers head into the woods in west Methuen.

Here, on a few acres of land surrounded by woods near the New Hampshire border, is the department's shooting range where Lt. Frank Korn leads exercises simulating as real conditions as possible.

"We're training officers so they are more confident on the street," Korn said. "We look for every opportunity not to use deadly force. It's really important, a liability factor, you want your people as highly-trained as possible."

For two weeks in the spring, the city's officers were at the range day, night and in the rain to polish their skills and complete yearly training exercises. Later this summer, they will go through some advanced rifle training at the site.

Police firearms training has evolved from the days of aiming at a stable target at close range, police say.

Today, officers run through drills that include how to deal with a hostage situation and how to react when a gun "jams" and can't be fired.

"When I started 37 years ago, essentially we were shooting at a target," said Lawrence police Chief John Romero. "As the years progressed, training got away from that."

While it's important for officers to hit a target, that type of training doesn't reflect real life situations, police said, like dealing with low light or nighttime conditions, moving targets and victims.

"Now, they're recreating as best they can the actual scenarios using weapons," Romero said. "It's intense and it's good."

Like Methuen, Lawrence uses an outdoor range in Andover for yearly training.

Methuen police have used the west Methuen site for 15 years. The Department of Public Works paved part of the area and installed poles and targets. Other police departments occasionally rent the site, one of a few available outdoor ranges.

"It's nothing fancy," Methuen police Chief Joseph Solomon said during a visit to the site with The Eagle-Tribune.

Regular weapons training is necessary for police work, he said.

"It's a tool hopefully you never have to use, but you could lose your life or the life of an innocent person if you don't know how to use your weapon," Solomon said. "You have to be able to shoot and be accurate."

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