"The buildings offer that surprise element and the element of the unknown," Grollnek said. "It's very hard to facilitate the element of surprise and provide a training area that hasn't been used over and over and over."

While training shootings are rare nationwide, others have occurred during similarly unauthorized exercises.

In 2008, a New Hampshire tactical officer accidentally shot and injured a fellow officer during an impromptu training session in a partly built bank building without the bank's permission, a report by the state attorney general there found.

An officer had suggested they could use the building for training "if things weren't too busy," and they accessed the building through an unlocked door after having been called there a night earlier for a 911 hang-up call, the report said.

They unloaded their weapons and completed an hour of training, then reloaded their firearms after finishing the exercise. But an officer asked if they could continue, and at some point while the sergeant was demonstrating proper footwork he accidentally pulled the trigger and struck another officer.

The sergeant was cleared of criminal wrongdoing, including assault and reckless conduct, because he did not intentionally draw his gun or intentionally pull the trigger, according to the report.

W.T. Gaut, a retired Birmingham, Ala., police master training officer and an Alabama state police officer who now works as a court-certified expert in police practices, said it is cheaper for cash-strapped agencies to find abandoned buildings for training than to build training complexes.

He said it takes a lot of searching to find a perfect setting that's far enough from neighborhoods and other distractions, but once such a rare training site is found it's common for it to be shared by multiple agencies.

"That's not unusual," Gaut said. "When you have one county agency using it, everyone tends to use it."

jfenton@baltsun.com

jgeorge@baltsun.com


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