Tuesday, August 19, 2014
(Monterey County) Salinas SWAT should use ‘Impossible City’
August 18, 2014
The Salinas Californian
By Allison Gatlin
Salinas’ SWAT officers could benefit from training in Fort Ord’s “Impossible City,” police Chief Kelly McMillin said Monday, but no agreement is currently in the works.
On June 30, the Monterey County Civil Grand Jury suggested in its final report that the Salinas Police Department contract with Monterey Peninsula College to train at the Military Operations Urban Training facility on Fort Ord.
In a letter dated Tuesday, Mayor Joe Gunter agreed, noting such an agreement would certainly benefit Salinas police.
However, MPC doesn’t yet manage the facility and the authority that does is seemingly a moving target.
Training on the “Impossible City”
Until 1994, the “Impossible City” — a lifelike, unoccupied cinderblock facility on the former Fort Ord — was used by the U.S. Army’s 7th Infantry Division. When the 7th Infantry relocated to Washington, the “Impossible City” was all but abandoned.
Since then, responsibility for orchestrating use of the training site deep within Fort Ord has changed hands several times. At one time, the FBI leased the property through the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which performs weed abatement and roadwork at the facility.
In 2004, the U.S. Army, Monterey County, Fort Ord Reuse Authority, Monterey Peninsula College and the BLM entered into an agreement, said Dan Carpenter, public affairs officer for the Presidio of Monterey.
FORA will own the “Impossible City” until permanent ownership is transferred to MPC, Carpenter said. In the meantime, the U.S. Army receives 45 training days annually at the MOUT facility, one of two in the United States.
Carpenter didn’t believe there were any other training agreements, but wasn’t completely sure.
MPC officials didn’t return a call for further information Monday afternoon.
Police, consortium would like to train at the MOUT
Years ago, McMillin said he trained with the U.S. Navy Seals and the Canadian Special Forces at the “Impossible City” — a spectacular site if there ever was one.
Outfitted with small arms ranges, live fire training, pop-up targets, a gaseous house and a tunnel system, Fort Ord’s MOUT was, and still could be, a fantastic training resource, McMillin said.
“It’s such a world class facility, they could potentially have training all over the world,” he said. “But it will be a big job to administer and train.”
What McMillin said he would like to see is the South Bay Regional Public Safety Training Consortium administer training at the MOUT through MPC. The consortium operates six police academies through community colleges, including MPC, McMillin explained.
And the consortium is ready, said Steve Cushing, president and chief executive officer. He, too, imagined the training opportunities the vacant city could afford.
“We’ve been on the periphery looking in and trying to push things forward,” he said. “We’re standing by, as we have been for the last five or six years.”
McMillin said he would like not only SWAT partaking in what the “Impossible City” has to offer, but also patrol and search-and-rescue officers. SWAT, however, has a particularly difficult task when it comes to finding training locations, McMillin said.
“It’s catch as catch can right now,” he said.
Salinas’ SWAT currently looks for training opportunities at soon-to-be-demolished housing units, under-construction complexes and at schools and businesses, after hours and with owners’ permission, McMillin said.
“It’s important for SWAT to train in a variety of environments,” he said. “So the SWAT team is on a constant search mode for training sites.”
Grand Jury suggests ‘Impossible City’
In a letter dated for Tuesday, Gunter responded to the June 30 final report which, in part, outlined the need for an agreement with MPC’s “Impossible City” on Fort Ord.
“An agreement between allied law enforcement agencies and local educational institutions would be a venture we would gladly participate in,” he wrote in response to the civil grand jury’s report.
Such an agreement, could be “very possible,” he later told The Californian.
Underground, the Salinas Police Department’s arms and shotgun range is inadequate for SWAT practice with long-range weapons, according to the civil grand jury. SWAT officers must train with those weapons instead in San Benito County.
Changes in modern warfare from open-territory battle grounds to urban settings have impacted local police forces, the grand jury wrote. To this end, the grand jury suggested the Salinas Police Department contract with the MPC for use of the MOUT on Fort Ord.
Entering into such an agreement would be most cost-efficient, the civil grand jury found.
On Monday, Gunter told The Californian, Salinas police officers have practiced on the MOUT in the past when it was strictly under federal control.
“It (an agreement) is very possible,” he said.
Salinas police in need of new building
Other portions of the report highlighted what McMillin has said for years: The Salinas Police Department is severely understaffed and housed in a deteriorating facility.
Members of the civil grand jury visited the Salinas Police Department on Oct. 2, 2013, and met with McMillin, both deputy chiefs, on-duty officers and civilian staff, according to the report.
The grand jury found the Police Department’s 139 sworn and 47 civilian staff members — of 155 sworn and 51 civilian staff members authorized — is insufficient to properly police Salinas.
Boiled down, that means one officer is assigned to police 1,111 of Salinas’ total 154,484 residents (per the 2010 U.S. Census). Per shift, that number is closer to one on-duty officer to police 11,034 residents. The ratio is the highest in Monterey County, the grand jury found.
Salinas’ Motor Pool consists of two officers assigned to the areas of highest concern, according to the report. They’re assisted by other Monterey County police departments, the California Highway Patrol and four former Salinas motor officers.
The Police Department’s numbers are further emaciated during an officer-involved shooting, the grand jury wrote. This year, there have been four, putting an estimated nine officers off duty for 40 hours apiece, per Police Department policy.
To compensate, the Police Department must order officers in on overtime, the grand jury wrote. Productivity goes down and injuries go up after eight to 10 hours on duty. Injured officers are often able to return to “light duty,” which doesn’t include policing from a car.
“This overtime dilemma is further impacted by the judicial process, which often requires an officer to appear in court for arraignments, trials or hearings,” the grand jury wrote.
Further, the structure on Lincoln Avenue “has severe problems with mold, and mildew caused by water leaks from the roof, which no amount of repair can remedy.”
During its visit, the grand jury found a 30-gallon plastic bag taped to a wall to funnel roof leakage into a bucket, according to the report. Lifting that sloshing bucket puts about 250 pounds of stress on an employee’s back, the grand jury estimated.
Materials, records and personal possessions are strewn throughout the building “wherever space is available,” according to the report.
In his letter, Gunter, a former Salinas police officer, largely agreed with the grand jury findings.
Gunter disagreed, however, with the grand jury’s assessment that the high cost of living complicates the Police Department’s efforts in recruiting.
“Law enforcement agencies throughout the state face the same difficulty in recruiting qualified candidates that SPD faces,” he wrote.
He also noted the Police Department offers a financial incentive to officers who score high on fitness standards and regularly trains officers on back safety. Such sessions include physical therapists’ instruction on proper lifting techniques, he wrote.Follow Allison Gatlin on Twitter @allison_salnews #salinas.