Crestview Training Center dedicated to former Sheriff Larry Ashley

CRESTVIEW — The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office Public Safety Training Center has taken on a new name to honor a former sheriff who was largely responsible for its creation.

County officials gathered Thursday to celebrate the grand opening of Sheriff Larry Ashley’s new Public Safety Training Center in Crestview. The complex was completed shortly after current Sheriff Eric Aden took office in January, but it was a project largely driven by former sheriff Larry Ashley.

The new Larry Ashley Public Safety Training Complex in Crestview includes offices and training classrooms, shooting and rifle ranges, a physical training course, a three-story tower with a rappel wall and a number of other specialized areas for law enforcement training.

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“Larry Ashley has done a lot in his 30s,” Aden said. “He was a visionary. I have never worked for someone who had a vision like him. He was able to anticipate the needs of the agency well in advance, such as this building.

The area was used by the sheriff’s office as a shooting range for several years, but needed improvement. Aden recalled shooting clay pigeons at the shooting range many years before it was large enough to accommodate 30 shooters.

Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office K-9 Deputy Tony Tony Costantini demonstrates his partner, Burt, during a ceremony Thursday to dedicate Sheriff Larry Ashley's Public Safety Training Center to Crestview.

The center now has several firing ranges as well as a two-story building used to train law enforcement in defensive tactics and classrooms. The complex is also used to train K-9 units, as K-9 Burt and his handler Tony Costantini demonstrated Thursday as Burt breached walls and other obstacles.

Deputies demonstrated their forceful breaching abilities using explosives to break through makeshift doors, and officials got a glimpse of another building that houses the MILO range simulator. Computer simulation is used to train deputies in active shooter and use of force situations.

“The MILO is, for me, the most impressive part of the complex,” Aden said. “You can see how split-second decisions mean life or death for these officers. It teaches us when and when not to act.

An Okaloosa County Sheriff's Deputy demonstrates the agency's MILO (Multiple Interactive Learning Objectives) line.  The range allows law enforcement officers to practice active fire situations in realistic environments using from one screen (shown here) up to five screens that surround an officer.

The deaths in service of Deputies Warren Keith “Skip” York and Burton “Burt” Lopez largely changed the way the Sheriff’s Office conducts training. York and Lopez were shot and killed in April 2009 while trying to arrest a domestic violence suspect at a shooting range in Crestview.

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“We have all felt the extreme loss…” said court clerk JD Peacock, who spoke at the dedication on Thursday. “Larry went through this as a leader, as a friend, as a mentor to these MPs. It’s something that has really marked the way we serve our community as a leader. How we care for those we serve.

Okaloosa County Sheriff's Sgt.  Tony Kelly uses a protective sling to help demonstrate how K-9 Officer Burt takes down a fleeing or combative subject.  The protest was part of the ceremony Thursday to dedicate Sheriff Larry Ashley's Public Safety Training Center in Crestview.

Ashley said he realized deputies needed to spend more time practicing. However, the facilities available at the time were “inadequate”. The only classroom setting available was a small room at the Sheriff’s Office headquarters in Shalimar, and the gun rage was “modest”.

“No one I know has fought harder to educate and bring professionalism to law enforcement in our community than Larry Ashley,” said former county commissioner Graham Fountain. “Not just in our community, even statewide.”

Members of the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office Special Response Team demonstrate breaching a door with small explosives during a groundbreaking ceremony for Sheriff Larry Ashley's Public Safety Training Center at Crestview.

Ashley worked with county commissioners and several chambers of commerce to get the project off the ground. It started with improved gun range and eventually turned into a nearly $2 million complex. The project was funded by a voter-approved half-cent sales tax increase.

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“It’s just a dream come true,” Ashley said after the dedication. “We just hope that this complex, as things have changed over the years in law enforcement, will continue to grow with this facility and the offerings it provides. Whether it’s computer crimes or financial crimes, whatever.

Aden said he hopes to continue Ashley’s legacy by emphasizing professionalism and training. The sheriff’s office recently acquired an additional 40 acres that could potentially be turned into a driving pad to teach deputies evasive maneuvers or used to expand the K-9 training area.

Former Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley laughs as current Sheriff Eric Aden shares a story about him Thursday during the grand opening of Sheriff Larry Ashley's Public Safety Training Center in Crestview.  Seated with Ashley are Okaloosa County Commissioners Carolyn Ketchel and Mel Ponder, right, and former County Commissioner Graham Fountain.

“It puts that much more emphasis on ensuring that we provide the best service to our community, and that’s one of them,” Aden said. “Without a proper training center, you cannot train properly.”

The inauguration ended with a blessing on the complex led by Commissioner Mel Ponder. Although many people were involved in the creation of the public safety training center, Ashley said it was humbling to know that her legacy will live on in the name.

“I am very proud and very honored especially to have left a legacy,” he said. “Most civilians will never see my name on this building, but almost every law enforcement officer, men and women in the sheriff’s office, will see my name on this building and ask why. I hope they will learn why.

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