DeKalb police use Pearl Street homes for training

DeKALB – Loud bangs rang out on DeKalb's Pearl Street on Monday as officers from throughout DeKalb County practiced storming into vacant houses.

About 25 officers from DeKalb and the DeKalb County Special Operations team practiced entering three houses using the same tactics they would use if they were serving a search warrant, DeKalb County Sheriff's Sgt. Ryan Pettengell said.

“We try to make this as realistic as possible,” Pettengell said. “All the officers are wearing the full gear they would wear if this was a real situation. They're all carrying the weapons they would use. However, they are filled with training ammunition at this time.”

The members of the county team, which includes officers from the Sheriff's Office as well the DeKalb and Sycamore police departments, wore tactical gear and used blast shields while approaching the front door of 120 Pearl St. They yelled “Sheriff's office search warrant” and pounded on the door twice before opening making their way into the house.

As officers filed in, one threw a flash bang grenade, a nonlethal explosive used to disorient people.

That scene repeated four times Monday, Pettengell said. Officers also practiced in two other homes in the 100 block of Pearl. The homes are owned by developer Shodeen Construction and are slated for demolition. Police plan to practice in the homes again, but Pettengell did not know when.

Shodeen President Dave Patzelt said he offered the homes to local and state police agencies and the DeKalb Fire Department for training in December. Shodeen, which owns a dozen homes along Pearl and Lincoln Highway, plans to demolish the houses, but doesn't have a date set for demolition, Patzelt said.

Two of the houses are still occupied, Patzelt said, but will be empty by summer. For the next couple of months, officers will have free rein to work inside the vacant buildings.

“Once they're inside, we're not concerned about what they want to do,” Patzelt said.

Patzelt said once a solid plan for demolition exists, he will offer the homes to the same agencies to use for training that might damage the homes, such as roof entries.

DeKalb Assistant Fire Chief Jeff McMaster said the fire department expects to start training in the homes around April. Firefighters will use houses on Lincoln Highway for ladder training and a home at 123 Pearl St. for search and rescue, McMaster said.

Its a rare opportunity for police and fire agencies to have such unfettered access to houses for training, DeKalb police Cmdr. John Petragallo said.

“We generally don't have homes we can train in and not have to worry about damage,” Petragallo said. “Say we need to break down a door or we break a window. These are things we would not have to pay for.”