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Head of the Class

The Northeast Counter-drug Training Center is a great resource for law enforcement officers…and it’s free.

April 01, 2004  |  by William Harvey - Also by this author


A tactical team practices entry techniques at the Northeast Counterdrug Training Center.

From the air, one of the nation's premier schools for training law enforcement officers in drug investigations and counterterrorism looks for all the world like a summer camp. But no one is going to the Northeast Counterdrug Center to learn how to make a lanyard.

Nestled in the Blue Mountains of central Pennsylvania in an area that's been known as Indiantown Gap back to the days when Pennsylvania's northern Appalachian valleys were the nation's western frontier, the Northeast Counterdrug Center was established in 1998. The Center's mission is to provide no-cost counterdrug training and education to law enforcement and drug demand reduction specialists across the 18 northeastern United States spanning Maine to Virginia and west to Wisconsin.

A collaborative effort between the Pennsylvania and federal governments created the center. It is congressionally funded through the Department of Defense and is managed by the Pennsylvania National Guard Counterdrug Program. Technology assistance for the center was developed in conjunction with the U.S. Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division (NAWCTSD) in Orlando, Fla.

In short, the Northeast Counterdrug Training Center is the fruit of an all-too uncommon alliance of state government (in this case, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania), the Department of Defense, and the Pennsylvania National Guard. Law enforcement is accustomed to training that's conducted by a single agency or sponsor, but that's not the case here. The Northeast Counterdrug Training Center is a law enforcement educational organization that provides training to all students without inter-agency politics or rivalries.

Everything You Need

The Pennsylvania National Guard facility at Fort Indiantown Gap was selected as the site for the center due in part to the wide variety of facilities available. It is also centrally located to the 18 states served by the program and offers easy interstate access and a nearby airport. And it's remote enough to be secure and discreet for officers who cannot afford to be identified as police officers by the bad guys.


An officer works a simulator scenario.

The 19,600-acre property includes state-of-the-art classrooms, distance-learning and video teleconferencing capabilities, an urban training site, a tactical entry training area, an indoor engagement skills trainer, and firearms ranges suitable for pistols, sub-guns, and rifles. That's the business side of the property. Creature comforts are also abundant. The housing is comfortable, dining facilities serve quality food, and there's a fitness center with a swimming pool.

Rich Curriculum

Of course, the most important aspect of the Northeast Counterdrug Training Center is what you can learn there. The center offers a wide variety of courses covering such critical training as investigative techniques, polygraph examinations, warrant execution, marijuana eradication, computer investigations, D.A.R.E. programs, street gang strategies, money laundering schemes, and undercover tactics and technique. In addition, the center also offers classes on counterterrorism and narco-terrorism.

Because of its rich curriculum and because its training is free to qualified agencies, the center has become so popular that it has actually added a second campus at Volk Air National Guard Base in Camp Douglas, Wis.

Virtual Reality

Like any effective training facility, the Northeast Counterdrug Training Center is constantly being upgraded. Recent improvements include the addition of two 50-person state-of-the-art computerized classrooms, a polygraph center, an upgrade of the existing RAID house to include an AIS Professional Range Instructor Simulator (PRISim) system, and a virtual reality shoot house.

As chief of the Lebanon (Pa.) Police Department, I attended the dedication of the RAID house last summer with a group of area police officials, and I can report that it is an impressive facility.

The RAID House is all the more impressive when a crack police tactical team demonstrates its potential. During my visit, the Pennsylvania State Police Special Emergency Response Team executed a flawless tactical operation in the RAID house.

The RAID House is a two-story facility that has been converted into a computerized interactive environment of apartments. Teams are tested with virtual reality, interactive targets, while a full recording system offers immediate feedback both to the students and the instructors. The instructors can also add to the realism with sounds, smoke, and smells to test a team's observational skills, senses, and decision-making. Most importantly, the instructors can change the scenarios from session to session, never allowing the students to memorize the chain of events like they would a video game.

Instructors at the center call the RAID House the "House of Honesty" because all students have to come to grips with their performances and admit their mistakes. Debriefing for every participant is in real time and both individual and team performance can be evaluated in a variety of ways from shooting decisions to observational skills. The report card from "The House of Honesty" is final, and the 104 cameras in the facility do not blink.

CONTINUED: Head of the Class «   Page 1 of 2   »

Tags: Narcoterrorism, Narcotics Task Forces, Drug Enforcement, Agency Cooperation, SWAT Tactics

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