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05/23/2007

It was a Riot! The Yard was Alive with Cops

The action was almost non-stop at the 11th Annual 2007 OLETC Mock Prison Riot(tm) in Moundsville, WV. Held at the former West Virginia Penitentiary, with its imposing and still foreboding Gothic-style façade, the event drew over 2,000 participants from nine countries. The facility officially operated from 1876 through 1995; after it closed the Moundsville Economic Development Council made the best of a bad situation by providing tours of the facility. There is said to be some paranormal activity present within the walls. The tours emphasize the purported ghost sightings to have occurred inside, and resulting haunting stories said to abound.

Not long after the closing, Sheriff Tom Burgoyne, the Deputy Director of OLETC, along with Steve Morrison, Director NLECTC-SE and vice-president of the West Virginia High Technology Consortium, saw the potential that the venue had for training purposes. Both men teamed up with Congressman Alan B. Molloakn (D-WV). The congressman offered a million dollars to transform Moundsville into an international training center, which now finds itself under the umbrella of homeland security. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Mock Prison Riot is a rather unique event. The stated purpose is to demonstrate and evaluate existing and emerging corrections technology. During the course of the show, there is a skills competition and riot training scenarios that allows the officers and tactical teams to compete and evaluate these new technologies. In effect, it is a mini-trade show concentrating on the corrections genre. The following is a thumbnail sketch of the show:
• 82 exhibitors
• 443 agencies
• 39 states
• 85 workshops covering 31 topics:
—TASER certification, extraction devices, chemical munitions, FN303 less lethal, Hydro-Force, Shocknife(tm), OC Instructor, Shield class, FAA flying while armed, ITT night vision, PepperBall®, and much more.
• 68 tactical scenarios
• 40 corrections and law enforcement teams

One of the big advantages the show offers attendees is the large number of certification classes offered. These workshops save money in training budgets for agencies that would normally not have money to spend on both coming to the show and annual training. Coming to the Mock Prison Riot allows them to not only complete training requirements, but also see and evaluate new corrections technologies.

The first day of the Riot offered quite a spectacle for the neighboring community to view. The first-ever Command March took place, in which all the participating teams marched from the facility and through the business district of Moundsville. Many of the schools in the area used this event as part of their career and community awareness programs. The community appreciates and supports the yearly event, especially since it adds so much to the business community itself and the local education programs. In addition to the first Command March, there was also a first-time-ever evening event, featuring the Wheeling and Weirton, WV Police Departments raiding a crack house that had been set up inside the chapel on the penitentiary grounds.

It was my first time attending a corrections show, and frankly, I did not know what to expect. The grounds and aging structure, though in some places in various states of disrepair, are nevertheless still quite impressive. It was obvious that a lot of time, effort, and money have been spent to transform the facility into a top-shelf training venue. I was manning the center's firearms simulation room, which had an installed Advanced Interactive Systems PRISim® Judgemental Training Simulator. During the course of my three days on site conducting an active shooter workshop, I was impressed with the level of professionalism that the corrections officers exhibited. I had not really given much thought to corrections training with respect to simulators, but my time there convinced me that they need this type of training as much as, or possibly even more than, their counterparts working outside the walls. I also had a group of two dozen students and their teachers from the local high school come in on the third day of the show. I demonstrated the simulator for them and allowed some of them to work through a scenario as well. It was well received, and gave them a better appreciation for the instantaneous life and death decisions that officers face each day.

A lot of thought has obviously gone into building the matrix for the event, and every minute of each day is fully utilized. Even the lunch hour had activity--each day brought demonstrations with TASERs, burning bars, pepper ball launchers, and various technology products. The organizers were prudent to the point of guaranteeing a captive audience by having vendors come into the exercise yard and providing a tasty array of lunch selections. This was very much appreciated by exhibitors and participants alike, since no one had to mount up and search for nearby restaurants.

I saw an interesting product at the show called the Recon Scout(tm), produced by Recon Robotics, located in Minneapolis, MN. I spoke with David Gustafson, Director of Commercial Sales about this remote controlled contraption. At first glance it resembles a barbell. It is lightweight, only 2.5 pounds, which allows it to be easily thrown or launched from hundreds of feet away. The unit has a remote, hand held controller that allows the operator to direct it to any part of a room or area. Gustafson said that it was built according to Marine Corps specs, the expectation being that a Marine in the field could operate the unit with one hand, allowing him to continue to fire his weapon with the other if necessary. It affords a pretty clear picture, and is fairly simple to operate, requiring no specialized training. Since it is so light and small, it can be carried on a belt or tactical vest. I like this capability--to be able to check out a room robotically, before making an entry. Look for this product to pick up steam in the future.

I also sat in on an interesting workshop entitled, "The Five Minute Fighter®." Taught by Jeff Quail, the ShocKnife inventor, the course brings some revolutionary ideas to the fore with respect to defensive tactics and the whole mindset that deals pragmatically with what happens when officers go hand-to-hand with the bad guys. This workshop is designed to educate participants on how to develop a realistic defensive tactics program, with the understanding that they will only have a short period of time to train others in physical skill sets. My overall assessment of the 2007 Mock Prison Riots is that the event is a "must see" for anyone with any type of relationship dealing with corrections. May 11-14, 2008 is the date to set aside for next year's gathering. This event is like a snowball rolling downhill--it is getting bigger each year. My advice to you, my friend, is don't miss it!


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