Basalt Police Department holds fourth annual Community Police Academy |

Basalt Police Department holds fourth annual Community Police Academy

Nino Santiago, the Basalt Police Department's community resource officer, gives instructions for a shooting exercise during their community police academy on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, at Basalt High School. (Photo by Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times).
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

Even though it was only a simulation, the realism made it difficult not to feel emotion. After watching her partner get shot on screen, a trainee lowered her rifle in despair and Sgt. Aaron Munch had to encourage her to keep going.

“To see my partner go down, I have to know I can’t just mourn for him right there,” Munch later said. “I have to go stop the bad guy from killing other people. It puts us in a good situation where we can visualize it and train the right way, coach the right way, and get everybody on the same page.”

The computer simulation was one of the stations Saturday at Basalt High School, which has hosted the Basalt Police Department’s fourth annual Community Police Academy nearly every Saturday since Oct. 6. This Saturday was all about scenarios, including when to shoot and not to shoot in a hostile situation.

The Ti Training simulator is the same one used by those in the actual police academy, as well as active officers and deputies who want some fine-tuning. The community academy gave the average citizen a chance to experience what officers have to learn. The simulator, which Munch could control and manipulate live during the exercise, has 300 different scenarios that can lead to 800 different outcomes within its programming.

In one situation, a man suddenly pulls out a stapler, and the trainee has to decide on the spot whether to fire. Sometimes there are no easy answers.

“It’s very interactive,” Munch said. “It is very gory. It’s very real. When you take a life, it will show you that you are taking that life.”

The academy, which is completely free to those who live in either Garfield or Pitkin county, is meant to give members of the community a small taste of what it’s like to work in law enforcement. Other weekend topics included patrol operations, crime scene investigation, fitness for those on duty, defensive tactics and firearm safety.

Saturday’s scenario exercises concluded training for this year’s academy. This upcoming Saturday will be a final get-together, complete with awards and recognitions.

“There is no graduation or testing. It’s not a certification for anything. It’s just an understanding,” said Nino Santiago, the Basalt Police Department’s community resource officer, who led the nine-week academy. “We don’t set it up with the intent to throw anybody off or veer anybody away from what we do. It’s just to give them more visibility into the totality of what it takes to be a deputy or police officer.”

Santiago said in the past the scenario week had been used for firearm training, with live shooting practice at the Basalt gun range. But as they were planning for this year’s academy, the Lake Christine Fire broke out in Basalt and that led to some temporary programming changes this year.

“We decided to just use this day to set up scenarios that wrap everything together that we’ve been doing the past nine weeks,” Santiago said. “We encourage everybody. This is breaking so many barriers. With the Lake Christine incident, I think people have an understanding that we are in this together. But this just hammers that home that much more.”

The academy brought in anywhere from 10 to 20 participants each Saturday, with most returning on a week-to-week basis. The fifth annual academy is already in the works.

“The fact that they put it on and it’s free is well worth it,” said trainee Terry Lott-Richardson, who works for the school district in Basalt as a health aid. “It really does open your eyes to what their day-to-day life is. … There are a lot of balls in the air and you have to finish each thought and get through it. It’s been great. I really appreciate what they do.”

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