INSTITUTE, W.Va. -- Five journalists lie flat on their bellies on the firing range at the West Virginia State Police Academy in Institute, fingers poised on the trigger and eyes focused on a small red dot that dances across the surface of a cardboard target. Six more reporters wait their turn behind the ACOG optical sight of a State Police AR-15 rifle.
"Five rounds," calls the range officer. "Fire!"
Twenty-five bullets scream downrange, most hitting somewhere within the confines of the target area. For some of the reporters, it is the first time in their lives they have ever held a firearm.
Television, radio and print journalists from Charleston, Huntington and Bluefield went to the State Police Academy earlier this week. It was part of an effort to bring reporters and troopers together to find common ground.
"It's a dialogue we're creating here," said Sgt. Michael Baylous, State Police spokesman and organizer of Tuesday's State Police Media Day.
"We're trying to build a better understanding between the media and law enforcement," he said. "We hope that it might open the media's eyes to some of the things they didn't know we did."
The day began with a tour and explanation of the academy's newest facilities.
In 2007, U.S. District Court officials in Virginia ordered Purdue Pharma L.P., the makers of OxyContin, to pay $634.5 million in fines for misleading the public about the painkiller's risk of addiction.
The West Virginia State Police, which assisted in a multi-state investigation of the company, got about $25 million from the court settlement. State Police officials have used the money to build a state-of-the art gymnasium and training facility, a new firing range and to pay for other upgrades to the academy complex.
Capt. D.M. Lee, State Police training director, said the money has allowed the State Police to do things ir couldn't otherwise afford. "This building has been a long time coming," Lee said of the new gymnasium and training complex.
Reporters were then shuffled off to a typical classroom, where Lee explained the origins of the West Virginia State Police and the academy's training regimen.
Lee said the State Police is a paramilitary organization, and recruits receive military-style training.
"We induce stress from day one," he said. If trooper candidates can't take the artificial stress of training, he said, they can't handle the stress of working on the streets.
The 25-week training course includes all kinds of rules and regulations, all calculated to instill discipline and confidence in recruits. Like the military, Lee said, the State Police must first tear recruits down in order to build them back up.