By BARBARA ARRIGONI- Oroville Mercury-Register Staff Writer
OROVILLE — A series of loud, fast "pop-pop-pops" sounding west of Oroville on Monday were gunshots, but it wasn't cause for alarm. It was Butte College students learning the basics and honing their shooting skills for future law enforcement careers.
Since last week, recruits comprising the 130th Law Enforcement Academy class have been out at the college firing range, located near the Thermalito Afterbay.
"One of the basic skills is how to handle a firearm correctly and when to use deadly force," said Mike Maloney, director of public safety education and training for the Academy.
The current session began in July with about 50 recruits. Just 28 are set to finish Dec. 6.
The shooting range is the last few weeks of a 923-hour course that follows Peace Officer Standards and Training requirements.
To graduate, the students have to go through 43 learning domains and have to pass either a written test or a skills test, Maloney said.
Those skills include shooting and emergency vehicle operation.
Half the class trained out at the range last week and will do the vehicle training this week. The second half worked with patrol cars last week and started shooting Monday. Next week, all 28 recruits will be together for more intense shooting.
One of the objectives of shooting practice is to have the response become second nature.
"We want officers to think and understand when to use force, but to do it quickly," Maloney said.
He said a lot of people assume
if a person wants to be a cop he or she likes guns, but that isn't true.
"Many of the students have never handled a gun in their life," he said. If people do sign on to the academy and indicate they like guns, that becomes an issue and those people most likely won't be accepted, Maloney added.
Out at the firing range, the students were learning basic firearm maintenance along with target acquisition and combat shooting.
"Gunfights that police officers are in don't happen like target practice; they happen spontaneously, at a close distance," Maloney said. "We're teaching recruits how to react in that condition.
"Over time, as they reinforce their skills, they'll hopefully develop such a level of proficiency operating a firearm, it becomes second nature to them."
Range supervisor Mark Tange said most of the recruits are in their 20s or early 30s, and a few are in their 40s. The majority who take the course are men, about 80 percent. Only one woman remained for the entire course this session.
Tange said a lot of the work with firearms has to do with procedure and process, and then the recruits learn the fundamental skills of sight alignment and trigger control.
Although the first week of shooting is done during daylight, next week there will be some night ranges as well.
"We try to make it challenging," said Tange. "The harder you train, the better at training you'll get."
Glenn County Sheriff and longtime range instructor Larry Jones said the experience levels of the class vary. Some of the recruits have had previous shooting experience, either through the military or from learning through family members, but most are inexperienced with guns.
Said Tange, "Many have never shot a firearm in their lives, and they do just fine with us."
Tange said for the most part, the students enjoy it, and he and the other instructors try to make it a good learning experience.
Jones indicated it's no picnic, though. "We push them pretty hard," he said.
Tange agreed. "I do the best I can to get them tired and work through fatigue," he said. "You have to be ready and know what to do, even when you're tired."
Staff writer Barbara Arrigoni can be reached at 533-3136, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @OMRBarbara.
Photo Credit Oroville Mercury(Ty Barbour/Staff Photo)