Cops ‘shake out lead’ at weapons qualification
Twice a year, 163 Warwick Police officers really get the lead out. They pump 30,000 rounds of ammo into targets at the Warwick Shooting range to qualify for their duty weapons. Law enforcement is required to take an annual qualification and a night shoot during each year. Officers use a “shoot house” at the range for tactical training during the night shoots.
Inspector Chris Mathiesen said every police officer in Rhode Island is required to qualify with their duty handguns. But it’s not limited to handguns. State statute requires all officers to qualify with all weapons they carry, including handguns, rifles, and shotguns.
The Warwick Police Department issues every officer a SIG P229 – a semi-automatic pistol distributed Sig Sauer. However, an officer may use a weapon of his own choosing as long as it is in .40 calibers. Some officers choose to carry Glocks.
Previously, officers could carry anything they wanted but when it came time for Mathiesen to order the ammo, it could get confusing.
“I had to literally figure out what you carry if you carried a .9 mm or if you carried a .40 mm,” Mathiesen said. “I had to balance all the info and it was a nightmare.” So when they started to standardize, they chose the SIG because they feel that it is a good weapon.”
The qualification course is designed by the Warwick Police and that along with the all the law enforcement’s qualification results are required to be submitted to the Attorney General’s office and POST - Police Officers Standard and Training once a year. The Warwick Police Department has three months to qualify its officers.
Besides the heat they pack on their hip, some officers carry carbines – a shortened version of a rifle, making it easier to handle.
When qualifying, officers shoot 37 rounds. Most shots are fired within 5 feet of the target, while the officers are on the move.
“We do a lot of stuff where we’re moving side to side; we do stuff where we’re shooting offhand,” Mathiesen said.
The first stage starts from about 2 yards back from the target. “The reason we do that is because most confrontation, most gun battles for our profession is zero to five feet,” Mathiesen said.
On command, the officers have to fire four rounds in four seconds – two rounds into the primary target and then two rounds into the secondary target.
There is a bowling pin shape target and if officers don’t get the shots inside the pin, they fail. “Anything in the bowling pin is a go, that’s a pass,” he said.
Warwick Police officers are trained to aim at the enemy’s body as opposed to the head because it’s a bigger target and it’s easier to hit.
“With a handgun, we’re always aiming for the center mass because it’s the biggest portion,” Mathiesen said.
According to Mathiesen, during the second stage the officers get within arm’s length of the target and while moving backwards they fire three rounds in four seconds.
Next, they progress back to where the barricades are. From there, they’ll fire with their right hand a few rounds at both targets and then they’ll fire a few more from their left hand, acting as if they are behind cover.
The course also features a stage where the officers walk forward while shooting and another where they have to run to the side and get down on a knee.
“You’re not supposed to stand there and shoot,” Mathiesen said. “You got to be able to move. They want you to move and get on target quickly. That’s the concept behind it.”
The last stage of the course is from 25 yards back. The officers shoot while on one knee and fire three rounds while they are scanning. “The reason we’re required three and then scan, is because we want to break and make sure that we’re also trying to identify other targets if there is any,” Mathiesen said. “Fire three rounds - We fire, scan, fire, scan, fire, scan, then we’re out.”
The officers are required to get a minimum of 25 shots into the body portion of the target out of the 37 shots they take in order to pass the qualification.
“The reason we do 37 is because we carry 37 on our belt,” Mathiesen said.
The Warwick Police shooting range also features a shoot house. It is used for night shoots, in-service shooting and decision-making.
Officers go to the shoot house both at night and during the day and shoot at moving targets. When officers go at night, they use their flashlights to see. There are two moving targets – one designed as a cop with the words “don’t shoot” and another as a villain that says “shoot.”
“You come in at night, you have a flashlight in your hand, and you’ll have to identify your target to make a decision which one is good and which one is bad,” Mathiesen said.
Officers are required by law to shoot low light and moving targets. Also located inside the shoot house is a wall used for explosive breaching. The wall is used to practice blasting doors down.
There are plenty of brass and lead cases on the grounds at Warwick’s shooting range facility.
Mathiesen, who commands the Warwick SWAT Team, says the facility is mostly for tactical training for the SWAT officers, but they let the Warwick Police Department use it on a limited basis.
This is Inspector Mathiesen’s 48th year running the range. Other than being an inspector, commander of the SWAT Team and head of all the rangers at the range, Mathiesen is also in charge of firearms training, homeland security and special operations.
Brent Groeneveld, a Warwick detective and a sniper on the SWAT Team, was one of the officers qualifying with his pistol Monday. Groeneveld was zeroing in his M4 carbine. Regular officers on the rifle squad carry an M4 as their primary weapon, but Groeneveld carries it as his secondary weapon because being on the SWAT Team, he has heavier weapons in his arsenal.
According to Mathiesen, every police officer carries a shotgun but only some have carbines and added that it is the SWAT Team that handles the heavy weapons.
Also at the Warwick range is a breaching door. The door was given to them as a gift and is worth about $6,000 and SWAT can use explosives on it to practice forcing open closed and or locked doors.
The shooting facility was just remodeled due to a pipe that burst. Mathiesen says they were fortunate to get an insurance settlement and remodel the place.
The police share the range with the Warwick Range Activities Committee. The committee runs a Junior Rifle camp where they teach kids to use a .22 caliber rifle on Saturdays and they hold a public shooting program on Sundays.
“Two rangers come down and basically run the range,” Groeneveld said. “They have shooting competitions. Shoot a lot of 22s. You see a lot of small 22 rounds, tiny rounds.”
They are a group of civilians that have been helping out the police to maintain the range since 1947.
“Nice bunch of guys and they’re very helpful and they contribute sometimes to some of the maintenance in the building,” Mathiesen said. “We work very close with them.”
Detective and Instructor John McHale was at the range June 23. He had just finished up qualifying Groeneveld and he was doing all of the paperwork for people qualifying.
The Warwick Police Donald “Cookie” Cook Memorial Shooting Range is the only range in Warwick. It’s free to outside agencies.
Years ago, the Warwick Police used to have an indoor range at the police station but they could never get the air quality to the point where it was safe. So about 15 years ago they shut it down, and it was remodeled into a female locker room. At that time, a lot of females were joining the police force and their locker room was small.
That doesn’t seem to bother Mathiesen because he likes having the range outside and having fresh air.
“It’s just as well because if you don’t maintain an indoor range continually, it becomes very hazardous,” he said.
Mathiesen said during the 67 years the range has been open, the city has had few complaints.
“We try to make sure that we don’t make much noise that it wakes up the neighbors all the time and we’re very concerned about the shooting at night,” Mathiesen said. “We tell the neighbors when we do have to qualify at night, that we’re going to be here for a little while and you’re going to hear some noise.”