Hillsboro center could become available to multiple law enforcement agencies

PHOTO COURTESY: WASHINGTON COUNTY SHERIFFS OFFICE - An artistic rendering of the new training facilitys exterior facade. The building is located at 600 S.W. Walnut St. in Hillsboro. A new law enforcement training facility in Hillsboro could improve and enhance the quality of training for all Washington County law enforcement agencies, according to proponents.

Expected to open in summer 2018, the 120,000-square-foot, county-commissioned Washington County Sheriff's Office training facility at 600 Walnut St. is expected to provide a single location for various types of training currently offered through a fragmented array of locations and facilities spread across the Willamette and Tualatin valleys.

"It will be a one-stop location for us to provide holistic training," said WSCO Undersheriff Jeff Mori. "And it's close — literally half a mile from (the WCSO jail and headquarters at 215 S.W. Adams Ave.)."

Currently, to receive classroom training, physical skills scenario training, emergency vehicle operations training and weapons and shooting skills training, county deputies and local municipal officers must schedule with often-faraway facilities weeks in advance, creating competition for training space, Mori said.

The Portland Police Bureau has a relatively new facility for Portland police, he added, but for the rest of the metro area's law enforcement agencies the pickings are slim.

The WCSO alone has 275 sworn deputies covering Cornelius, Gaston, Banks and all the unincorporated areas weaving throughout Hillsboro, Beaverton and Tigard — as well as an additional 250 jail officers and 100-plus civilian staff.

Add in the personnel from each of city the agencies vying for time in the same limited number of training facilities, "(and training) becomes operationally inefficient," said Don Bohn, assistant county administrator. "Having a facility here that can do all these different essential training elements just makes such operational sense … It'll be a big game changer when we get this thing done."

If you build it, they will come

Coming in at just under an estimated $17 million, the new facility will boast several features and amenities currently unavailable locally, Bohn said. And it won't cost county taxpayers anything extra.

The new facility's cost, Bohn confirmed, will come out of the county's $1 billion 2016-17 budget, which designates funding specifically for upgrades and repairs to its many facilities.

"(Law enforcement personnel) deserve the best training we can possibly give them, and the public deserves the best-trained officers we can possibly give them," he said. "What I've come to appreciate more so now than I ever did before is just the tough job these deputies have — and it's gotten tougher over time.

"Recruiting qualified folks is just harder because not everybody wants to get into the field because of the complexities of it now, and retaining people who come into the field is also tougher. It's a stressful, hard job."

By improving and enhancing the quality and availability of training, Mori and Bohn agree deputies and officers will have greater opportunities to build the confidence necessary to perform their physically and mentally demanding jobs.

"We are struggling to find the very best people that want to come into this vocation," Mori said. "This will be a very good recruitment tool for not just us, but I think for law enforcement in the community — because eventually our longer term vision is to make this available to as many of our Washington County law enforcement partners as possible."

It's not uncommon, Mori said, for multiple law enforcement agencies from around Washington County to respond to the same emergency call for service.

"Those folks that are out working the streets, working together every single day, I would love to see on a common training platform," Mori said.

And because other agencies are experiencing the same challenges as the WCSO, Bohn said, "The reality is other folks will have a solution to their training needs, too."

A one-stop cop shop

The new facility's proximity to other Washington County law enforcement agencies will allow for more frequent — but shorter — training operations, Mori said. And by curtailing training periods, but offering the training more frequently, training efficiency will improve, he added.

"It also allows us to integrate things we do not have now," he said, such as a complete miniature city for real-world scenario training built inside the facility.

"It will look like a Hollywood prop," Mori explained. "They'll look like homes, they'll look like businesses … this will look very similar to what the people out on the street are dealing with."

"People will be shocked to walk in and see a little city," Bohn said. "We're trying to make it as real for the deputies as we possibly can. There's nothing like being on the street when something happens and you have to respond.

"You want them to respond as instinctually as they possibly can, and the reality is training is the only way they can get it."

Another major addition is the Emergency Vehicle Operations Course, which will mostly cover the free space on the northern exterior portion of the property, though there will also be a training track within the simulated city.

"When we have time to go to Salem, we can use the police academy's track (for vehicle training), but you have to get it scheduled, and everybody wants to use it," Mori said. "There's really nothing dedicated to use for emergency vehicle operations training, other than maybe the Portland International Raceway — but again, that's expensive and you have to get it scheduled well ahead of time. With the number of law enforcement officers just in Washington County, it becomes difficult to do."

Equally difficult, Mori continued, was providing real-world scenario training for WCSO jail officers.

"Everyone that gets arrested and goes to jail in Washington County comes to (the Adams Avenue jail site)," Mori said, noting that much of the current training available to jail officers comes on-the-job, which is not ideal. "There's currently no place for jail deputies to train in a simulated area that looks like what they work in every single day."

So along with the miniature city, underground firing range and complete vehicle training track, the county will also incorporate a simulated jail.

"If we could build a facility and have folks come to it and reinforce all the tools of their trade and enhance their comfort level and skills out on the street, it makes it better for everybody," Bohn said. "We know (we'll get dividends from the investment) … what I worry more about is, what's the cost of not doing it?"

By Travis Loose
Reporter, Hillsboro Tribune
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