In a quiet area, combat training raises a ruckus
Union Tribune (2009-07-18) Jim Okerblom
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, Private Mercenaries
VALLEY CENTER -- Residents of a bucolic Valley Center neighborhood were shocked when they began hearing automatic weapons fire, helicopter gunships, explosions, shouting and other sounds of military battle.
"And then there is smoke rising up from the avocado grove across the way," said Eva Rosa, 54, who lives on San Antonio Way, a rural area of large groves about four miles south of the Pala Casino.
Ruben Rodriguez, who lives down the same street, said, "Just picture you are in Afghanistan." He said he has seen a busload of Marines unload several times at a nearby property.
Turns out, paramilitary training is being conducted on the property of David Bishop, a veteran Escondido police officer and a member of his department's SWAT team.
In an interview yesterday, Bishop, 55, a former Marine, was somewhat vague about the training exercises. He said they are informal, involving members of police department SWAT teams and others in the county's "tactical community," as well as Marines.
Most of the sounds, including military helicopters, automatic weapons and explosions, are from a loudspeaker, Bishop said, and the smoke is from a smoke generator.
Only occasionally is live ammunition used, Bishop said, such as a shotgun loaded with birdshot fired into an embankment, all of it "simulating a combat environment."
What sounded like gunshots could be heard yesterday from the road below Bishop's house. A man standing on the driveway barred entrance, declined to be interviewed and said he didn't know what the letters DMI on his shirt stood for.
They are for Direct Measures International, a Newport Beach company founded by Alon Stivi,
a former member of the Israeli Special Forces. Stivi describes himself as "an internationally recognized leader on security, violence prevention, counterterrorism and travel safety."
His company provides various kinds of training, including tactical training for the military and law enforcement.
In January, Bishop said, he began allowing various groups, including DMI, to use his 17-acre property on Pala Loma Drive because it is isolated. He talked to neighbors on his street, he said, and they approved, and none have complained. Bishop said he is not paid, except compensation for any damage.
He said the noise is not as loud as a chain saw, a common sound in the neighborhood.
In response to complaints from residents on San Antonio Way, which is across a canyon, the county is investigating whether any zoning codes are being violated, a spokesman said yesterday.
Ruth Harber, who also lives on San Antonio, said Bishop told her some of the training involves the use of pigs that are wounded, and trainees have to stem the bleeding using "a special pharmaceutical cover."
Bishop said he did not recall telling Harber that, and was not sure if that kind of exercise had occurred.
Rodriguez, 50, said he wants the training stopped.
"I came out to Valley Center for peace and quiet," he said. "Nope. Now, I've got a military base next to my house."
Credit: STAFF WRITER