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The annual Chris Parsons SEMO SWAT Challenge will return to Fredericktown April 12-14.

The event is named for Washington County Sheriff’s Deputy Christopher Parsons, who was killed in the line of duty December 15, 2012. Parsons is deeply connected to the Fredericktown Police Department, making the event particularly meaningful for local officers.

"He (Parsons) worked out at my gym and I got to teach him when he went through the academy and then I gave him his first job in law enforcement here (Fredericktown)," Fredericktown Police Chief Eric Hovis said as he looked down at the bracelet he wears as a constant reminder of the sacrifice Parsons made.

"This is more than a training event or a pulse-pounding competition, the SEMO SWAT Challenge is a sum greater than its parts," Juli Kline said. "Ultimately, it is an opportunity for law enforcement across the nation to come together as one to learn from each other. Each event of the challenge is a training opportunity. The events are geared towards real life scenarios and are intended to challenge each team as a unit."

Hovis said the event has never been a fundraiser for anything or anybody but "love" buckets are passed around and the money is given to a law enforcement officer who is struggling.

"We found a couple law enforcement officers who were struggling, one had testicular cancer and the other had another form of cancer, so we split the money and gave it all to them," Hovis said. "Then the following year, Timmy Harris, a deputy in St. Francois County, we gave the love money to him."

Hovis said the event is 100 percent about getting out and training together. 

"I for one have had more than one friend killed in the line of duty and you never want their sacrifice to be forgotten and you never want their life to mean nothing," Hovis said. "We've changed a lot of ways we do business and the way we train because of the stuff that happened to Chris (Parsons) and people get complacent and complacency kills. You get out here and it's just a mundane routine, 'oh I'm just going to run over here real quick and help the ambulance crew lift this lady', your guards not really up high and it always should be."

Hovis said Parsons was running a routine assist to help EMS lift a lady and was shot in the head by someone at the scene.

"I was there that night with other officers from our department and hundreds of other officers from surrounding agencies and we really don't get together and train like that ever," Hovis said. 

Hovis said the officers overcame several issues that evening, but the situation could have been helped with better networking and communication. He said, whether you are talking about marriage or law enforcement, it does not matter, communication is key and that is the purpose of gathering department heads and team leaders at the event to network, exchange numbers and make things smoother in the future.

"The first whole day is nothing but training and networking and then Friday and Saturday the events that we do are training events but there is a competition aspect in there to see who can get the cleanest shots and fastest time," Hovis said. "It gives them that extra push. It's no different than coaches out here with their ball teams, when the game is on the line you want the ball in the hands of the players that are out here pushing and giving it their all and they want it."

Hovis said Fredericktown Police Department is a 15-man department and the reason they are the ones pushing for this training is because they have the backing and the community support. 

"It doesn't matter if you work for a department with five deputies or five thousand you need the communication, you need the training and that's what it is all about and we love it," Hovis said. "We still live in an area that the majority of the public support law enforcement and they support our training and that's where we are at."

Hovis said the public will be completely safe with fencing around areas and guards at the gates and entrances to the range. The obstacle course event will be Saturday and does not include a shooting portion, so the public will be allowed to get up close to watch it. 

The event is open to the public and all visitors are required to check in at the gate located at the entrance of the training sight, sign appropriate waivers forms and obtain a spectator wrist band which must be worn at all times. Admission is $5 and children 12 and under are free. 

Several vendors will be set up along the grounds including refreshments and food booths as well as several tactical firearms companies and businesses.

The first event open to the public will be 8 a.m., April 13 and will be a blind terrorist attack event, followed by the top sniper competition at 11:30 a.m. The second event at 12:30 p.m. will consist of an active shooter exercise. On Saturday the range will open to the public at 7 a.m with the third event, officer down, to begin at 8 a.m. followed by the final shooting event, top shot/rolling three-gun competition at 11:30 a.m. The fourth and final event, the obstacle course, will be at 12:30 p.m. with closing ceremonies at 4 p.m.

"All these departments that come from other places they also have their person, deputy or patrolman that they have lost that they hold near and dear to their hearts," Hovis said. "Those of us who are here training, that's why we do it. Until I retire, way way down the road, until that happens I want to keep getting up every day and serving my community. That's what it is about, this training hopefully when they go back to their departments if they've picked up one thing that helps them become a better, safer officer for our community and take one tool that they can put in their tool box that will save a life, it's all worth it."

Victoria Kemper is a reporter for the Democrat News. She can be reached at 573-783-3366 or at vkemper@democratnewsonline.com

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