Jason Hyatt of the Sullivan County Sheriff's Office, in black, and Chris Whittaker train officers at the remodeled Gunnings schoolhouse. Photo by David Grace.
BLOUNTVILLE — Learning is afoot again at the old Gunnings schoolhouse on Shipley Ferry Road in Blountville, but it’s not of the childhood variety.
Refurbished and remodeled, the grounds now serve as the training facility for the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office. Those activities were formerly held on a county-owned parcel of land off Highway 394, which was sold in late 2011 to developers of a commercial landfill.
Since that time, the Sheriff’s Office has been transitioning its continuing education efforts to Gunnings School, a county property that had been sitting vacant. And with the exception of no on-site firing range, as was present at the prior location, SCSO Training Capt. Joey Strickler says the move is an upgrade.
“In my opinion, the building is much more conducive to a learning environment,” said Strickler.
Dozens of officers are filing in and out of the school each week for required in-service training, as well as specialized classes.
Two rooms are equipped with TVs and speaker systems to create classroom settings. Just down the hall shelves of a library are lined with titles like “Human Relations and Police Work,” “Traffic Accident Investigation,” “Forensic Pathology” and volumes of Tennessee Annotated Code.
The downstairs portion of the old schoolhouse is now outfitted as an expansive weight lifting and cardio area, with all the equipment either donated or obtained through grants. That area’s flanked by a padded room where officers hone up on their defensive tactics, such as how to safely subdue resisting suspects. A courtyard outside the school is now dotted with obstacles for K9 training.
An officer’s training is a continual, constantly evolving process, according to Strickler. And that well-balanced education includes how to deal with all citizens that police will encounter, beyond just the criminal offender or traffic violator.
Courses held at the training facility include offerings in public image, mental health, and how to appropriately handle sufferers of Alzheimer’s or post-traumatic stress disorder.
“People don’t realize there’s another side of law enforcement,” Strickler said. “There’s a compassionate side.”
It’s not just Sullivan County officers who are using the facility. Personnel from other area police agencies will attend a variety of diverse training courses over the coming year, from active shooter exercises to officer survival techniques.