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Oct. 1 became ‘catalyst’ for fundraising efforts for police training center

The ambush training scenario mimics an actual police shooting, when officers found themselves suddenly taking fire from a gunman they would shoot dead.

This time, however, the guns they are using, with their bright-blue pistol grips, are not real. But with their simulated blank bullets, they still crack like real shots.

“Sir, are you hurt?” an officer yells to the gunman’s victim.

“I’m shot!” the man yells back.

This was the scene on a weekday afternoon at the Reality Based Training Center, a sprawling $35 million police training complex on the northeast edge of the Las Vegas Valley.

It’s where officers with the Metropolitan Police Department and other Southern Nevada law enforcement and other public safety agencies will train to be as prepared as they possibly can be for situations they will face out on the streets of Las Vegas and throughout Clark County. Mass shootings. Terrorist attacks. Street crime. And everything in between.

‘Catalyst for support’

The training center owes a lot to how the community responded after the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest festival, in which 60 people died in what has become known as the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

“It was the catalyst for support,” said Tom Kovach, the executive director of the nonprofit Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Foundation, which has been raising money to build the training complex.

He said that although former Sheriff Doug Gillespie laid the groundwork for the planning of the facility, current Sheriff Joe Lombardo made completion of it one of his priorities, but was told by the governments that fund Metro that it would take 20 years to get the facility funded, designed and built.

So Lombardo asked the police foundation if they could do it faster. Yes we can, Kovach said. In 2017, the foundation was beginning to raise money for it.

The then-new Vegas Golden Knights NHL franchise expressed interest in donating in the summer of 2017.

‘Almost the silver lining’

“And then Oct. 1 happened,” Kovach said. “And their (the Knights’) season opened several days later and they announced in a pregame ceremony that they were going to donate a million dollars to this facility.”

Eight million dollars came from the Las Vegas-based Engelstad Foundation. And more donations began to roll in after Oct. 1.

“It was almost the silver lining in a horrible tragedy,” Kovach said.

Now, instead of two decades in the future, the partially completed facility is on its way to be being fully operational when the indoor training village is set to open near the end of 2023.

With the larger corporate donors, many individuals and households have also given, he said.

“Pretty much anyone who lives here and so many people who visit are one person removed from someone who was that concert,” Kovach said.

The foundation has been able to secure $28 million for the complex and is working on raising the final $7 million to cover its $35 million price tag.

Of that $28 million raised, $25 million has come from private donations. The other $3 million comes from the federal government, Kovach said.

Completion expected by end of 2023

The first of two buildings, with its office space, classrooms and other indoor training facilities, spans over 50,000 square feet and became operational this year.

The second building, a massive 130,000-square-foot complex that will house an indoor tactical training village, with real-life settings such as a casino floor, hotel rooms, a gas station, convenience store, cellphone store, school, and more, is expected to be done by the end of 2023 — if the money can be raised.

Any company, household, or individual who wants to donate can go the foundation’s website and get information about how to give, Kovach said.

In the training scenario, police find the hiding gunman and shoot him dead. But they also train in other ways of de-escalation that do not end with shootings, said Capt. Reggie Rader of Metro’s Organizational Development Bureau.

“We try to make it as realistic as possible,” said Rader, who was in a command role as operations chief on Oct. 1, 2017. “We want that heart rate going up with these officers because that’s a good indicator of what they’re going to do in a real-life situations.”

Rader expressed a similar sentiment as Kovach, that the Oct. 1 shooting galvanized financial support for the new training center.

”As you saw five years ago, we did come together not only as first responders and as a community and show that we’re Vegas Strong, we’re continuing to do that today with this facility and being able to train together,” Rader said.

Contact Brett Clarkson at bclarkson@reviewjournal.com or 561-324-6421. Follow @BrettClarkson_ on Twitter.

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