PARKERSBURG - City crews are installing an automatic target system at the Parkersburg Police Department's shooting range at the end of 19th Street near the floodwall.
"We've been looking into this for a couple years now," said Mayor Bob Newell. "This is a professional target system, and most law enforcement agencies around the country already have them. It will bring us up to speed on firearms training."
The system contains 10 targets operated by a computer and can simulate several different shooting scenarios, said Newell.
"Our officers are mandated by the state to qualify through the West Virginia Law Enforcement Training Commission," said Newell. "Running more than 60 officers through the one-man target we used to have was very time consuming. Now we can have 10 officers training at a time, so it's more efficient."
The target was purchased from Action Target, a global supplier of shooting range products, for around $25,000. Funding for the target came out of the police department's Special Projects Account, which is separate from the general budget and is used for special training events, equipment and police canines, said Newell.
Police said the target is good news for the department.
"It will absolutely reduce the city's risk of liability in the event of an actual incident," said Sgt. Greg Collins, spokesman for the Parkersburg Police Department.
The system's 10 targets can be programmed to operate in unison or individually. Unarmed or "friendly" targets can be incorporated into the system.
"As the targets turn toward the officer, he will have to make an assessment on whether to shoot or not, in the given time frame," said Collins. "For armed targets, we shoot, for unarmed targets we do not shoot, but give verbal commands. This methodology has been used for many years, but being able to program this into a computer will be much faster than changing the scenario manually each time."
Collins said an important part of training is teaching officers when it is appropriate to use gunfire.
"We never want to train our officers to shoot every time they pull their weapon from the holster," he said. "While training on the range, we want them to be forced to make the decision to shoot or not, using the pressure of a time constraint."
The system features a moving target, which runs laterally behind the 10 targets.
"This is something we could not duplicate before," said Collins. "Being able to shoot at a moving threat on the training range will provide an obvious benefit to our officers."
The system should be up and running by the end of the week, after crews install a compressor, said Newell.