Thirteen members of the annual Gulfport Citizens’ Police Academy were given the chance to observe what an automatic machine gun can do, know what it feels like to fire a Glock hand gun and learn how new DNA evidence technology is helping to solve more crimes. They graduate on Tuesday, May 17 at the end of the City Council meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in Gulfport City Hall.
“The academy is designed to expose citizens to the equipment and topics we deal with,” said Gulfport Police Commander Joshua Stone. “A fully automatic sub-machine gun is something we could possibly encounter in the real world that bad guys could possess.”
This is why a German made MP 40 weapon is demonstrated during the firearms safety class. Pull the trigger and it fires about 30 rounds of 9mm ammunition in a matter of a few seconds, Stone said.
Participants also got to do hands-on learning by firing 9mm Glock handguns at paper targets with Gulfport police officers at their side.
“I’ve always been anti gun,” said Denise Lowe of Gulfport. But, after going through classroom training covering safety procedures then practice on the firing range, she said, “I felt empowered. I had a big shot of confidence that I could handle a weapon so well. It was shocking to me.
“Now, I’m thinking of getting my own Glock and a concealed weapons permit.”
Said Kirt Kleiner of Gulfport, “No question was off limits.”
He wanted to know why when the use of a gun is needed, officers aim for a person’s torso as opposed to “a foot, arm or leg.”
“It’s difficult for people skilled with guns to hit moving targets and small areas like an arm or leg especially when they’re under stress and their lives are in danger,” said Stone. “The torso is the largest mass of the body and we shoot to stop the threat. We have to account for every bullet we fire. It’s our job to protect the public, fellow officers and to go home to our families.”
Participants also learned how newer technology is shaping law enforcement.
“More car burglaries are being solved now because touch DNA can detect when a bare hand leaves a small sample of dead skin cells behind,” course leader and Community Resource Officer Zack Mills said. “When a person is arrested for a felony, a DNA swab is taken in their mouth then kept on file.” Computer stored data then allows law enforcement officials to make electronic matches more frequently than ever before.
“Different class experiences” allow participants to “get to know the officers,” Mills said.
Other hands-on learning included driving patrol cars through and around traffic cones on a closed course while following turning commands. At times, some participants were driving 35 mph.
“It doesn’t sound like it’s fast,” said Kleiner, “but it is in a parking lot.”
Participants were also given the chance to be passengers in a mock vehicle pursuit on the course while trained law enforcement officers were driving.
“I totally chickened out and didn’t drive or ride,” said Lowe. “I have vertigo. But if I ever take the course again, I’ll take Dramamine and do it!”
Learning about K-9 enforcement and how to safely extinguish a fire were also parts of the varied curriculum.
“Seeing first-hand was eye opening,” Lowe said. “It’s a dangerous environment for officers and dehumanizing” to inmates.
The 11-week course ran from February 18 through April 28, Thursday evenings from 6 to 9 p.m. It is open to Gulfport residents though people from neighboring cities can be accepted if space, which is limited to 15, allows.