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ATC law enforcement digs into new training ground

An arrest made in the not-so-distant future - how officers respond to a dangerous situation and how safely it goes down - might be influenced by what's taking shape at the Alexandria Technical College right now.

The ATC broke ground this week on a new $10.5 million law enforcement center addition. It's expected to open next summer or early next fall.

This sketch gives a rough idea of what the Alexandria Technical College's new law enforcement addition will look like once it is completed by fall of 2009.

The 58,000-square-foot facility will include a tactical warehouse for on-the-street scenarios where officers-in-training will practice their skills at stopping the bad guys.

The warehouse is large enough to fit two full-sized semi trucks, two squad cars, a mobile home and simulated store front for different training scenarios.

A catwalk around the perimeter will give instructors a good view of how well the students do.

The addition will also include several hands-on laboratories where students can sharpen their interrogation tactics, physical skills, radio dispatching and crime scene investigating.

It will also feature an indoor firing range, which is good news for neighbors living near the ATC who have complained about the loud noise from the existing outdoor range when classes take place every fall. The new shooting range will train more students year round.

Other parts of the addition include retractable bleachers, bathrooms, lockers, weight room, student lounge, equipment storage space and faculty offices.

An enclosed hallway will link the addition to the north portion of the ATC campus on 18th Avenue, the new technology center.

Besides providing improved training facilities, the addition will accommodate more students for the ATC's growing law enforcement program. Back when it started in 1967, the program had just 12 students. Today, more than 450 students enroll during the year.

The addition is expected to train many of tomorrow's police officers, sheriff deputies and state troopers. Right now, about one-third of all Minnesota sheriffs and more than 100 Minnesota police chiefs are graduates of the ATC program.

Just before a ground breaking ceremony was held Monday afternoon, ATC President Kevin Kopischke thanked the many people who played a key role in the project, including Ringdahl Architects, local legislators Bill Ingebrigtsen, Torrey Westrom and Mary Ellen Otremba, Sheriff Troy Wolbersen, Police Chief Rick Wyffels, Pope County Sheriff Tom Larson, Alexandria City Council members, instructors with the ATC's law enforcement program and project managers, Scott Berger and John Phillips, ATC vice president.

In his remarks before the ground breaking, Berger noted that the state-of-the-art training facility will not only be used by ATC students but will also draw interest from law enforcement agencies across the Midwest.

Berger, ATC law enforcement coordinator, said the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Department of Corrections and the St. Paul Police Department have all expressed an interest in using the training facility.

"It will be a big draw to this area," Berger said.