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PANEL BACKS TRANSFER OF LAND IN ALDEN FOR POLICE TRAINING

Like Hollywood or Disney World, a mock street with spring-activated booby traps could be part of an Erie County training center for SWAT teams if police agencies' plans come true.

The Erie County Legislature's Public Safety Committee gave tentative approval Wednesday to the transfer of about 40 acres of county land in Alden for the site.

Buffalo and seven towns with special weapons and tactics teams joined the Sheriff's Department in the request, estimated to cost $125,000.

Deputy William Gourlay, a member of the Sheriff's Department SWAT team, said the units respond jointly in emergencies as needed and would continue to train together, but at a more sophisticated level than now is possible.

"Everybody knows everybody else, so they can't make any mistakes," said Sheriff Thomas F. Higgins.

Higgins asked for designation of a former gun range, connected to the Erie County Correctional Facility and bounded by abandoned quarries, in an out-of-view area north of Genesee Street between Billo and Millgrove roads.

There, he said, the law enforcement agencies would create a practice field including:

"Hogan's Alley," a mock street with spring-activated targets and non-targets that require officers to make correct decisions on whether to shoot.

A 170-yard sniper deck.

An "entry" house for training in storming under fire.

A shooting range, rimmed with hundreds of tires, for target practice with arms ranging from handguns to sub-machine guns.

"We have construction equipment donated by various contractors," said Higgins. "The tires are being donated by the armed services. The way the live ammunition hits the tires, it just absorbs it on impact. There is no possibility of ricocheting."

The few neighbors on adjoining roads support the concept, Higgins added.

The advanced training is necessary because criminals now carry more firepower than police officers, he said, and criminals on drugs often don't think twice before shooting.

Higgins said he is hoping for some free assistance from utilities to bring in electricity, water and telephones. He said the county would be asked to pay for operation of utilities, including mercury lights for night operations.

Towns with SWAT teams include Hamburg, West Seneca, Tonawanda, Orchard Park, Amherst, Cheektowaga and Lancaster.

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