TAMPA (FOX 13) - In the wake of the tragic shooting death of a woman during a citizens academy training in Punta Gorda, police procedures for conducting shooting scenarios is under the spotlight.
In many police departments across Florida, it is standard procedure for both officers and citizens to leave loaded weapons at the door before any kind of training scenario.
"Whether concealed or not concealed, nobody can have a gun," said Chip DeBlock, a retired detective who served for 30 years with Tampa Police.
DeBlock now produces shooting simulation videos with LEOroundtable.com. He said the two most common fake weapons used by officers in shooting scenarios are "blue or red weapons," a solid plastic gun that does not fire, or Simunitions, a mock gun designed to look and feel like the real thing, but shoot colored pellets.
"They provide a loud enough click to where you can actually hear the gun shot go off," said DeBlock.
Shooting simulations are designed to put participants through highly stressful scenarios where they must make quick decisions on whether or not to fire their weapon. It can be dangerous to have real guns in arm's length.
"All of a sudden you see a gun being produced. You get excited, you yell, 'Gun! Gun!' or 'Put the gun down!' It's easy to get caught up in the scenario," said DeBlock. "So if you happen to have a gun in your ankle holster, or maybe you normally carry a gun under your shirt and on your side, you just be instinct go for it."
Some departments have a training instructor on site specifically to check each weapon to make sure nothing gets mixed up. Instructors will also check for weapons on each person who leaves or reenters the training area.
According to Punta Gorda Police, Officer Lee Coel was holding a revolver that he used in a previous training class. He thought the weapon only had blank rounds. Coel mistakenly pointed and fired the loaded gun at 73-year-old Mary Knowlton. She was shot multiple times and later died.
"Before Simunitions were even popular, or maybe before they were even around, we used real firearms, and we would use blanks," said DeBlock.
He added that TPD has not used real guns for shooter simulations in decades.
FOX 13 requested a list of standard procedures used by Punta Gorda Police when conducting the citizens academy. A spokesperson said there is no current policy on the record, however, the department said Wednesday, they do not plan to use real weapons going forward.