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Fullerton PD embraces community as kids, families tour station at annual open house

Fullerton PD embraces community as kids, families tour station at annual open house

Fullerton PD embraces community as kids, families tour station at annual open house

By Marc Ballon-Behind the Badge

A woman comes across an odd scene: a man working on a car at the side of a wooded forest with a passenger passed out in the front seat.

She asks if everything is OK. Yes, the man says.

Suddenly, he pulls out a weapon and begins firing. She returns fire with a Glock 22.

Another assailant materializes from the bushes and starts shooting. She points her weapon at him. Then a man hidden in the backseat sprays her with bullets. She shoots back. Bullets fly and chaos reigns.

The final tally: Not a single one of her shots hit an assailant, although she inadvertently shot the incapacitated passenger.

Thankfully, the gun battle that would have surely left her dead was only a virtual recreation. Instead of shooting people, the woman fired an empty gun at a screen, with sensors tracking her errant shots.

This “videogame on steroids,” quipped David Benedict, range master at the Fullerton Police Department, is used to train Fullerton police officers how to react in a real-life crisis.

The simulator, which can generate 50 different scenarios, including armed robberies, ambushes and knife attacks, will soon be upgraded to feature more than 500.

It was also one of the main attractions at the Fullerton Police Department’s Annual Open House on Saturday, Oct. 24.

At the all-day event, 245 people went on guided tours of the Fullerton Police Department jail and shooting range; watched K-9 demonstrations; chatted with police officers; and picked up information about Neighborhood Watch and other nonprofit law enforcement partners.

In all, about 300 people attended.

Children jumped joyously in a bounce house and had their pictures taken on department motorcycles.

“We’ve been to the open house in the past, and we appreciate the police and all they do,” said Fullerton resident Stephanie Oslick, co-owner of the Enchanted Toy Store, who attended the festivities with her two young sons.

Fullerton Mayor Pro Tem Jennifer Fitzgerald came to “support our police department, which I think is one of the best in the world, and have my kids know what options they have open to them when they grow up.”

Her 4-year-old son Carter’s favorite experience?

“That I got to see the jail,” he said.

Another highlight took place during an intense SWAT team demonstration.

A car with three bad guys and a hostage drove into the center of the courtyard, followed by a police car and a SWAT vehicle. Police dogs set upon one suspect who emerged from the car holding a gun. A sniper “shot” and killed the second bad guy when he jumped out and started firing.

Two officers threw flash bangs that made a big noise, leading the scores of children watching to plug their ears. Soon thereafter, the SWAT team apprehended the final suspect and saved the hostage.

The Fullerton Police Department restarted the open house four years ago, after more than a 20-year absence, because “ we want the public to understand that our doors are open, and that we’re here to answer all their questions,” said Sgt. Kathryn Hamel, PIO for the FPD.

Symbolizing the department’s accessibility is Police Chief Dan Hughes.

On Saturday, he personally conducted tours of the facility, including one for Oslick, Mayor Pro Tem Fitzgerald and their children.

Taking a page from the documentary “Scared Straight,” Chief Hughes addressed the four young boys as they passed a tiny jail cell. He pointed to a small toilet inside.

“It would stink to have to go to the bathroom in front of somebody,” he said.

A few moments later, Chief Hughes pulled unappetizing frozen meals from a large freezer, saying they’re fed to inmates.

“And we don’t have snacks here,” he added.

Recently, the FPD has achieved some significant milestones, Chief Hughes said. Fullerton became the first police department in Orange County to require every officer to wear body cameras; it remains the only agency in the county to have mental health clinicians ride with officers to provide immediate assistance to those who need it; and it often sends counselors along with officers for victims of domestic abuse.

The department has an annual budget of about $36 million and 145 officers.

“I am here to serve this community,” Chief Hughes said. “It’s not just about writing tickets and making arrests. It’s about helping to improve our city’s quality of life however we can.”