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New era of law enforcement training begins

Echo Press photo by Celeste Beam At the end of the ceremony, three of the six Douglas County Sheriff's Office Honor Guard members, including (back, left to right) Kevin Wiseman and Bob Peper and (front) Brandon Chaffins, retired an American flag and presented it to Scott Berger (not pictured), law enforcement program coordinator for the college.

The grand opening for the new $10.5 million law enforcement training center at Alexandria Technical College (ATC) took place Friday.

The 58,000-square-foot facility fully opened in August, just in time for this year's new batch of law enforcement students. Faculty actually began using offices in May, while the gym and locker rooms were open in June.

Friday's ceremony included a presentation of colors by the Douglas County Sheriff's Office Color Guard, along with comments from ATC President Kevin Kopischke, current law enforcement program coordinator Scott Berger and past law enforcement coordinator Grant Haugen.

Ribbon-cutting ceremonies with local legislators, law enforcement officers and students and community representatives also took place.

The new training center includes 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.

There is also a catwalk around the perimeter that will give instructors a good view of how well the students are doing during those scenarios.

The training center also includes several hands-on laboratories, an indoor firing range, lockers, weight room, student lounge, equipment storage space, faculty offices, bathrooms and retractable bleachers in the gymnasium.

Berger thanked everyone for attending the grand opening ceremony and said, "It is the school's long history and leadership that got this building here. It's pretty amazing what you'll see here."

He also said that the facility is a great addition to the law enforcement program and college, as a whole.

Haugen, who is still an instructor for the law enforcement program, talked about how the program has evolved. He said that when it first started, students had to provide their own gear and that there was only one textbook - an intro to criminal justice book.

The first firearms class was held in the basement of the Alexandria Police Department, said Haugen, who was an ATC law enforcement student in 1971-1972.

In addition, the students used their own vehicles for practicing stops, he said.

The .38 revolvers used by the students when the program first began, along with the ammunition, was kept in a closet in one of the classrooms, noted Haugen, adding that under today's strict standards, that would never happen.

Around 1976, the school purchased vehicles for the students to use and in 1977 an outdoor firing range was built for firearm training.

The summer skills course was added in 1982 with 22 students attending, noted Haugen. Last summer, there were nearly 200 students enrolled in the summer skills course.

Currently, there are 12 law enforcement program instructors and 18 past instructors, who Haugen said contributed a lot to the program to make it where it is today.

"This program has advanced greatly since it began in 1967," said Haugen.

Kopischke concluded the program by stating that he wasn't sure what ATC founder Vern Maack had in mind or what his vision was for the law enforcement program, but that the program "sure has come a long way."