In a special event held Sept. 21, the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Department dedicated its new high-tech 30,000-square-foot training center with a well-attended gathering of officials and special guests, including Harold Tridico, the former sheriff; and, the family of the late Capt. Robert "Bob" LeBlanc – Robert "Bob" LeBlanc Jr., Jimmy LeBlanc, Linda LeBlanc Cedotal and Shane LeBlanc.

These special guests got a big surprise when they saw etched glass signage on classroom doors reading: "Tridico Room" and "LeBlanc Room."

Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley said it was important to acknowledge their contribution to the new center.

"This building doesn't happen without Harold Tridico," he said. "In the era of '74 to '96, he hired virtually all of the command staff of the department, including me. His fingerprint is all over this facility," he said.

Training Director Lt. Col. Paul Robert said it was Capt. Robert "Bob" LeBlanc who built the parish's first training center, which is located at the complex and still in use today.

"He got the first training center built," he said. "We brought him out of retirement. He started forming coalitions within the community - with area businesses, the plants, the National Guard - getting people to donate their time and equipment to get the range built. He was very persuasive."

Friday's event was the culmination of years of hard work, which started as a vision of Sheriff Wiley's after visiting a similar facility in Bossier Parish several years ago. His objective was to create the finest sheriff's department in the state.

"I wanted to take a good department and make it better," he said, in a separate interview. "We already had a good department; I just wanted to make it better."

The sheriff said the new $13.3 million facility was due to voters passing a 3.3 mill levy in Ascension Parish. He also mentioned BASF for donating the 84-acre tract of land where the training center is located.

Sheriff Wiley said new facility has classrooms equipped with state-of-the-art technology to keep officers on the cutting edge of law enforcement. He said officers are professionals who train regularly on a wide range of subjects.

"On the classroom side, officers learn hand-to-hand, interrogation techniques, leadership skills and philosophy," he said. "They also have to keep up-to-date on technology, social networking and things like that."

Sheriff Wiley said training is multi-faceted with some taking place inside the classroom and some on the shooting range.

"My officers qualify quarterly – four times per year," he said. "The state requires qualifying one time per year. We meet and exceed that expectation."

The sheriff said authorized local, state and federal law enforcement agencies conduct firearm or tactical training at the training complex.

"It's for all those who protect and serve," he said.

One thing that makes the APSO Training Complex unique is that it offers both live firearms qualifying as well as simulator training. Sheriff Wiley said helps prepare officers to know what to do in a variety of real-life situations.

When is it appropriate for an officer to use deadly force?

"Whenever lives are threatened," said the sheriff. "That's why training is so important. Sometimes you only get a split-second to make a decision."

In addition to classroom facilities, the center also houses administrative offices for the training staff, an emergency operations center to better respond to natural and man-made disasters, a logistics area for storage and distribution of supplies during emergency events, a covered storage area for all department emergency response vehicles and equipment, as well as storage for the department's Crisis Response Team's equipment.

During the event, visitors got to see the emergency response room where the department's Humvee, Bearcat armored vehicle and multi-purpose robot are stored.

Sheriff Wiley said the Humvee was used during Hurricane Isaac to rescue people from their flooded homes.

"It's the best high-water vehicle around," he said. "It can operate in 5-feet of water."

He said the Bearcat armored vehicle can be used in a variety of hostage situations. The sheriff said it can ram a hole in a building large enough to allow the SWAT team to fire teargas inside from a safe distance.

"These vehicles were purchased using assets seized from area drug dealers," he said.