D.C. police to train in new mini-city called Tactical Village


People attend an event at the Metropolitan Police Department's new training facility on Wednesday in Washington. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
October 2, 2013

The District’s newest town doesn’t have a snazzy name. It has just a handful of streets. There’s Woodland School and Manhattan Union Bank, a generic office building and an empty convenience store. It’s got three newspaper boxes, a mailbox and a fire hydrant.

Tactical Village is the newest addition to the D.C. police department’s training academy in Southwest Washington, a mini, self-contained — and air-conditioned — town built inside a structure that resembles a small aircraft hangar. It’s designed to help officers and recruits prepare for real-life scenarios, from active shooters to routine traffic stops.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier opened the “city” Wednesday by strolling down Main Street and watching demonstrations that included tactical officers storming the school with automatic weapons drawn.

Similar training centers are rare among municipal police departments; the most famous is the FBI’s Hogan’s Alley, named after a gritty street in an 1890s comic strip.

Tactical Village cost taxpayers $5 million and took six years to build, along with a new 40,000-square-foot building, on an old police firing range at the academy off Blue Plains Drive, south of Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling. The D.C. Police Foundation, a nonprofit support group, helped shepherd the project along.

“We owe it to the city to save lives and interrupt terrorism,” said Terrence D. Straub, the foundation’s co-chairman. “We owe it to the police to keep them safe [so they] go home every night. And we owe it to people to prevent another Columbine, Aurora and Navy Yard.”

The references to three mass killings — two in Colorado, the latest the Sept. 16 shooting in the District that claimed a dozen lives — brought added relevance to the opening of Tactical Village. Lanier referenced the shootings often Wednesday, saying the modules at the training center can easily be changed to reflect new scenarios.

“The threats constantly change,” Lanier said. “We have to adapt.”

She noted the complexities of hunting down the gunman in the Navy Yard’s Building 197, which she described as a “tactical nightmare” — a 630,000-square-foot, multi-level building filled with six-foot-high cubicles. Lanier said situations like that can now be replicated inside Tactical Village.

Other law enforcement agencies that have similar facilities include the Los Angeles Police Department, which has had one for decades that includes a gas station, a bank, a bar and a coffee shop. The New York Police Department is scheduled to open a new $1 billion training center in December that includes a 25,800-square-foot tactical village with two four-story apartment buildings. Federal authorities have a simulation village in Georgia.

The FBI’s Hogan’s Alley, which has several full-size townhouses, is on 10 acres in Quantico. The agency calls it the “Baddest Town in America.”

The District’s Tactical Village has many amenities any town would want. The streets are to scale and have painted yellow lines, and the height of the curbs is to regulation. The street lights are real. But the windows pop out and the doors are designed to be hit, repeatedly, by police battering rams without breaking.

Lanier said the single mailbox might be an officer’s only cover during a firefight on a residential street, and the bank’s floor-to-ceiling glass windows help train officers to approach a building knowing that they’re going be seen by the bad guys inside. The fake town is large enough to practice traffic stops with real cars, complete with sirens — as officers did in a demonstration — and to drive two large tactical vehicles to either end of the school.

There’s a “gas house,” where officers can be subjected to tear gas and pepper spray so they know what these feel like. The tops of the buildings are open, and instructors can watch and film exercises from catwalks.

In some respects, the mini-city is bland, almost too generic, given the variety of architecture and street scapes that could have been copied from real-life Washington. But Lanier said that was the point — to ensure that the town could easily evolve.

“We’ve needed this for a long time,” Lanier said.

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