ON THE BEAT: Reedley Police Academy arms residents with gun safety

Community Member Academy emphasizes the importance of gun safety, showcases the Special Response Team’s readiness

Officer John Arenas showcasing a police helmet at the Reedley Police Department Community Member’s Academy meeting on June 12. (Danny Jimenez)
Darren Fraser
Published June 17, 2024  • 
12:00 pm

REEDLEY – For week seven of the Reedley Police Department Community Member’s Academy, the meeting focused on the role of the department’s Special Response Team and on the importance of gun safety – with the latter serving a prequel to next week’s session which will be held on the shooting range.

Sergeant Steve Puryear and Officer Michael Velasquez walked Academy members through firearm safety rules. The two also discussed the weapons in the department’s arsenal, including handguns, AR-15s and shotguns. Members were given the opportunity to handle training weapons, known as simunition guns.

“Familiar but safe” was Puryear’s mantra regarding gun ownership. He said his four daughters know their way around guns. He added his family understands the most important rule when it comes to owning a gun, which is: Never get lazy.

Sergeant Steve Puryear presenting to participants of the Reedley Police Department Community Member’s Academy meeting on June 12. (Danny Jimenez)

“The majority of accidental shootings result from laziness,” he said. He provided the example of a gun owner deciding to clean their gun, but fails to confirm it is not loaded. “What happens?” Puryear asked, although the answer was clear.

It became readily apparent that gun safety is synonymous with common sense: never point a gun at someone; when carrying a gun, such as a rifle, make sure the barrel is pointing towards the ground; store ammunition separate from the weapon; and never leave a gun in a vehicle.

These vary from range safety rules, which are slightly more mercenary:

  • Treat every firearm as if it were loaded;
  • Never point at anything you’re not willing to destroy;
  • Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire; and
  • Be sure of your target and what is behind it.

As Puryear noted, firearm safety is the same as driver’s education – there is a lot of studying and minutiae. Chief Jose Garza, who kicked off the session, then joined the discussion.

“What if someone steals the gun you left in your car and commits a homicide? Are you liable?” he asked, leading into the next topic.

TO CARRY A CONCEALED WEAPON OR NOT

The presentation then eased into a discussion on concealed carry weapon (CCW) permits. Garza said he is firmly in favor of citizens arming themselves.

“We live in dangerous times,” he said. He noted that Fresno County Sheriff (FSO) John Zanoni, just like his predecessor, is a strong Second Amendment Advocate and that FSO readily dispenses CCWs to nearly everyone who applies, provided they complete the 8-hour training course.

On a philosophical note, however, Garza posed the following question:

“Why do you want to carry a gun?” he asked. It was a loaded question (pun not intended), because he followed it with this question:

“Would you use it if you had to?” he asked – the implication being that an individual who carries a legally concealed weapon has the responsibility to intervene if they witness a crime.

“Is that a responsibility you’re willing to take?” asked Garza.

Following this existential digression, the discussion returned to more pragmatic matters, such as the proper way to grip a handgun and what is the best shooting stance – two stances include “Weaver” or “Isosceles” – when firing a weapon.

COMPOSITION OF THE SPECIAL RESPONSE TEAM

“We’re not here as a military occupational force; we’re here to prevent death or injury. That’s why we have this equipment,” Garza said while members of the department’s Special Response Team unveiled the tools in its arsenal. These include aerial drones, mobile robots and bulletproof vests. The vests weigh between 30 and 50 pounds. The added weight comes from the metal plates inserted in the front and back.

“I am very critical of everything,” said Puryear, who is a member of the team. “But I can say Reedley is in the forefront of all (tactical) equipment.”

He added, “Somehow, we always get the safety equipment before everyone else.”

The team has eight members, including presenters Officer John Arenas and Officer Daniel Renteria.

So, what does the Special Response Team do? Arenas said it is the team’s job to respond to active incidents.

“God forbid, a school shooting,” he said. “We also deal with barricaded subjects.” In short, any incident that rises to the level of crisis.

A look at one of the vests worn by police officers, which weigh anywhere between 30 to 50 pounds. (Danny Jimenez)

Arenas brought a shield the team uses when it breaches a door or when it enters an environment where shots may be exchanged. The first team member carries the shield.

“It’s not light,” said Arenas. “As much as I work out, there’s not enough working out that can hold that shield up. It sucks.”

The second team member carries a ram. The third member carries the stick, which is used to break windows and pry doors. Next comes the member carrying a rifle.

“Then we’ll go less lethal,” Arenas said. These members carry tasers and/or bean bag projectiles.

Rounding out the tactical response is the perimeter team. These team members do not enter the premises but are tasked with containment and with corralling any suspects who flee on foot. Perimeter team members also operate the aerial drones and the motorized robots.

300 BLACKOUTS

Arenas next discussed weapons and ammunition. He mentioned in addition to the police standard AR-15 that Velasquez discussed earlier, the Special Response Team uses Sig Sauer 300 Blackout ammunition for a high-caliber rifle.

“Let me explain that really quick,” Puryear interjected. He explained the 300 Blackout, while being a large caliber bullet, does not travel “super-fast.” Which, ultimately, is safer.

“We use a bullet (referring to the Blackout) that is heavier, doesn’t travel as fast, and is less likely to penetrate a couple walls and continue through,” he said. “It’s not going to go a thousand meters out. It’s only meant for closer range.”

Officer Renteria next explained how the team utilizes aerial drones.

“This one (a drone that resembles a large insect) we use outdoors to track down suspects. I used this yesterday,” said Renteria. He added that the drone picks up on body heat and can be outfitted with a spotlight or a speaker. He noted that the department has eight drone operators – one for every shift. He also brought a smaller, indoor drone.

“Better they (suspects) destroy this than us,” he said.

Renteria next demonstrated the motorized robot, or the “I Robot.”

“Those of you who have a Rumba (vacuum). The same company makes this,” he said. As he moved the machine across the floor, using a controller which he likened to a video game controller, Renteria extended the robot’s arms and deployed its various features.

“These things are very intelligent,” he said. “They can even open doors,” provided the operators possess this skill set.

Arenas said the team has flash bang grenades but does not often use them.

“When we use them, we want to stun someone and have that wow factor,” he said. “It’s another tool to gain the advantage as much as we can.”

The presentation concluded with a discussion of the military helmet members wear. Arenas noted that one of the most sophisticated components of the headgear is it allows team members to talk in a whisper but they can be heard across significant distances as easily as if they were standing next to each other. And, of course, helmets come with video and infrared.

“Just another tool to give us the advantage over the guys we’re going after,” said Arenas.

Darren Fraser
Reporter