By Keith Burton Filed 3/10/07 GCN
Gulfport residents surrounding the Armed Forces Retirement Home complex in east Gulfport may notice some alarming activity starting Sunday, March 11.
In a news release sent to GCN from the office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Jackson, the retirement home complex is to be used for urban Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) training exercises by the FBI as well as state and local law enforcement officials.
SWAT-type training often involves the use of noise-producing training munitions and gunfire with blanks, actions at night with bright lights and commotion.
"In keeping with its principles of Accountability and Excellence, the General Services Administration (GSA), which provides property management services for the AFRH, and AFRH personnel have agreed to allow the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to conduct official SWAT and other training exercises for federal, state and local law enforcement personnel. This training will take place only in select areas of the Retirement Home. The use of this facility for these exercises will afford training opportunities not otherwise available to federal, state and local SWAT agents and officers," reads the news release.
The AFRH has been closed since Hurricane Katrina. The 44 acre site has several buildings, including an eleven story residential tower. The entire complex including the tower is to be demolished beginning this summer to make way for a replacement facility. The Armed Forces Retirement Home has served as a premier retirement community for our Nation's veterans for the past thirty years.
"The AFRH has always worked to serve the needs of the veterans who have protected the security of the United States," said Stephen F. Gomez, Acting Special Agent in the Charge of the FBI in Mississippi in the news release. "Now, before the AFRH is demolished to make way for the new structure, it will once again serve the people who work to protect our Nation. By affording this unique and realistic training opportunity to the very people who now serve on the front lines to protect the security of the United States, the AFRH will stand as an invaluable partner in better preparing law enforcement SWAT teams to carry out their mission in a safer, more effective manner."
The training is scheduled to begin Sunday, March 11, 2007, and will continue through the first part of April. FBI officials said in the news release that the agency is "grateful to the AFRH and GSA for providing this opportunity for training."
Similar urban law enforcement training exercises in other states have drawn criticism over the past few years by residents who are often not informed of the exercises and become alarmed that some major activity is going on near them. Often, residents are upset that they have not been informed. This latest announcement for the exercise in Gulfport at the retirement home was received by GCN shortly after 5 p.m. Friday afternoon, too late to call for details and just two days before the program was to begin.
GCN called the Gulfport Police Department Saturday morning about the training. The switchboard officer said, "We know about it but I don't know when it is starting."
When GCN asked how long they had notice, the officer said, "It wasn't here when I left yesterday, but it is here today."
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