Building a tactical village for Houston police

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - With Houston entrepreneur Tilman Fertitta at the forefront, the Houston Police Foundation is raising money to build a tactical village for the Houston Police Department.

The foundation reports it is only $2 million shy of the $10 million needed to break ground on the state of-the-art facility.

"We know it's all about training for everything," said Fertitta. "You just realize, this really makes a difference."

To understand what Fertitta wants to bring to Houston, Channel 2 Investigates toured the Fort Worth Police Department's advanced training facility.

"One of the goals of training is to get as close to real as possible while maintaining safety," said Sgt. Eddie Trinidad, with the Fort Worth Police Department.

Fort Worth's tactical village is built inside a 30,000-square-foot facility. The village contains city streets, apartments, houses, a school, a convenience store and a restaurant with a bar. Each building inside the village comes complete with furniture or other items normally seen in a business, home or school. Everyone from cadets to SWAT officers trains on a myriad of scenarios in a near-real-world setting.

"Before, we would have to use a classroom and pretend it was this or that. Well, now we don't have to pretend anymore," said Trinidad.

Trinidad said officers train on everything from routine traffic stops to domestic disturbance calls to active shooter and hostage situations. Fellow officers are brought in to play the parts of suspects. The environment of the village can be altered from night to day, and physical space can be changed to make areas tighter or more expansive, depending on the scenario.

Sound effects can also be piped in to enhance the reality of a situation.

"If we have an officer approaching an apartment door, we can have a woman suddenly scream, or the sound of gunshots," said Trinidad.

Catwalks run over every part of the village so instructors can watch scenarios from above and offer instant critiques.

The Fort Worth Police Department's facility also has a video simulator that gives officers a taste of the life-or-death decisions they have to make on the street.

"We have over 130 scenarios in here," said Trinidad.

Tactical village presentation

Trinidad said instructors can also change suspects' responses during the virtual encounters based on an officer's actions. Simulated guns can be programmed to malfunction to add yet another layer of reality.

Fertitta said tragedies such as the Columbine shooting made police departments rethink how front-line officers are trained. The tactical village was one of the ideas that sprang from that effort.

"This is for the everyday patrol officer out there. Everyday patrol officers are going to use this facility," said Fertitta. "That's the goal here, that if there's an active shooter, we want that first, pull-up patrol officer to be able to get into that building and stop this active shooter."

The Houston Police Foundation hopes to break ground on the 40,000-square-foot facility sometime next year. The foundation reports it will take a year to build the village, which will be constructed on the grounds of the Houston Police Department's training academy near George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

"I've put in my share. I put in $2.5 million and, gosh, we'd love to raise another couple (of) million dollars from the citizens of Houston," said Fertitta.

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