According to Sheriff Brad DeLay, the Missouri State Sheriff's Association was looking for an additional site to host a training academy in southwest Missouri and Lawrence County answered the call.
There are 19 students in the first class under the tutelage of four state-certified instructors: DeLay, John Goulbourne, Doug Bounous and Mike Madewell.
"In addition to book work, students are taking part in a series of reality-based trainings that include vehicle stops and building searches," DeLay said. "They use weapons that do everything a real gun does -- except shoot bullets. They shoot pellets. When a student gets shot with a pellet, it hurts a little bit, but the benefit of knowing that is offset by the reminder if it had happened in real life, they could be dead."
"There are people out there that hate you simply for being a cop," Bounous lectured to the class. "There are some people out there with radical beliefs, and they are willing to kill for those beliefs.
"I've dealt with them in Lawrence County," he continued. "I've dealt with them in Barry County. You will deal with them, too."
Students were shown actual dashboard camera footage of the West Memphis, Ark., deputies recently killed while making what they believed was a routine traffic stop. The footage was sobering.
"This is real," Bounous said. "That man and his son got out of their vehicle and shot those officers on the side of the road. There should never be such a thing as a 'routine' call or traffic stop. This is stuff we don't want happening to us."
A second video showed a police shoot-out in a trailer park in Ohio, where a deputy answering a domestic disturbance call was shot and killed at point blank range by the suspect, who in turn was killed by officers returning fire.
"That deputy that went down at the front of the trailer wasn't trying to get a better shot," Bounous told the class as they watched the gruesome drama play out on the video screen. "He'd been shot, but he kept firing until his weapon was empty. It was that survival instinct kicking in."
Bounous and Golbourne also demonstrated how to properly conduct a building search, keeping close to walls and approaching doorways carefully.
Instructors wanted students to get the feel of night-time traffic stops and building searches for practical reasons.
"Most of you will be going into departments as new hires, and you'll be working nights," Bounous said. "That's just a fact. But you need to know how to do this stuff, vehicle search tactics, looking for things that are out of the ordinary, not silhouetting yourself against your vehicle lights. A lot of this will come with experience.
"Don't be a statistic," Bounous said.
Class members participated in a number of scenarios that included run away suspects at a traffic stop. The practice sessions forced students to make instant decisions on whether to pursue the fleeing suspect or continue with the second suspect remaining in the vehicle. Instructors stood by to halt the scenarios and make suggestions geared toward improving student performance in the field.
Bounous had an additional word of caution involving traffic stops.
"Drunks are mesmerized by our lights," he laughed. "I don't know why that is, but they'll plow right into your patrol vehicle."
Students successfully completing the academy will graduate in June.
"This is the first of what we hope are many more academy training classes to come," DeLay said. "We're excited to be chosen to host the training here at the new Justice Center."