As the sound of gunfire echoed down the short hallway, Chilean Police Capt. Gerardo Aravena raced toward the nearest room with Montgomery County Officer Fernando Carvajal close on his heels.
With officers lined up on either side of the doorway, a slight motion from Aravena signaled another officer to open the door and step back, allowing Aravena to quickly assess the room. Hugging the wall to his right, he charged into the room, his pistol up and at the ready.
Sighting on a figure standing in the corner of the room, Aravena recognized the gun in the hand of a mannequin and fired. Behind him, Carvajal stepped into the room, surveyed the scene with a professional eye, and patted Aravena on the back, addressing him in Spanish.
“Good, good,” Carvajal said, his voice echoing off the cavernous walls of the mock classroom setup in the basement of the Montgomery County Police Academy in Rockville on Wednesday. “You got the shooter.”
What appears at first glance to be a training exercise for an international anti-terrorist unit straight from a Tom Clancy novel is the first active shooter training scenario ever run at the academy with foreign police students.
“We’ve trained with other jurisdictions here in Maryland and even from other states, but I’m unaware of any training we’ve ever done with foreign officers,” said Mike Chaconas, an academy instructor.
A colonel stationed as an attaché at the Chilean Embassy first contacted Carvajal about five years ago. They discussed the possibility of Chilean police, called Carabineros de Chile, touring the academy a few years later. This past summer the carabineros general director visited the facility, and liked what he saw.
“We talked about training and he said, ‘Look, I really like what you guys do here, would it be a problem if maybe I could send some officers here so they can train?’” Carvajal said. “I love it from a personal side because I grew up there and my parents are from Chile, and professionally, if you can help another cop? That’s more power to everybody.”
A delegation of 11 carabineros — two captains, two sergeants and seven corporals — and a Chilean police communications official arrived last week and completed the academy’s certification course for police driving, becoming instructors in their own right ready to spread their knowledge to colleagues back home when they return at the end of this week. The class also took advantage of the academy’s active shooter setup Wednesday.
“Everything that we have done here in Montgomery County has been beneficial for us as professionals and personally. We all came here to absorb knowledge, and a lot of it is similar to what we learn in Chile,” Aravena said during a break in training Wednesday. “There are also things we’ve learned that will be useful for us to teach when we get back home.”
Carvajal is also learning from his students, exchanging tactical strategies with them and comparing notes. While Carvajal has years of experience in police work, he is not above seeking advice and constantly asks the visitors how police in their country would approach each exercise or scenario.
“We’re always looking to improve ourselves. The staff that teaches tactics here usually have extensive experience, but I’m looking at them, too. And believe me, I’m learning,” Carvajal said with a smile. “I’m paying attention, too, because you never stop learning.”
For example, after Carvajal and Chaconas demonstrated one of the methods county officers are taught to clear a hallway, with one officer in the middle and two officers on either side switching to cover the rear, the carabineros offered their own strategy, lining up four officers with a fifth covering the rear of the column.
“This is a mutual exchange of teaching. They are learning from us our techniques, as well because they are constantly asking us, ‘Show us how you do this, how would you do this?’” Aravena said.