Mike McKibbin

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March 6, 2013
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'You have to keep moving'

Moving as a triangle, three Rifle police officers made their way down a dark, empty hallway in Graham Mesa Elementary School.

Wearing bullet proof vests, their eyes were glued to the sights on the AR-15 assault rifles held at their shoulders, ready to confront an armed gunman.

The flashlights at the end of the barrels of their rifles helped light around corners and doorways, any one of which could hide the gunman.

Up and down, back and forth, the officers cleared locked and unlocked rooms and moved on to the next one.

No gunman was inside the school, as the three-hour training exercise on Friday, March 1 was held to help prepare Rifle officers for situations that have unfortunately become too common across the nation: an armed gunman in a school building.

Sgt. Mike Kuper lead the training, wrapping up several days of classroom and this field training for a "live shooter."

"Remember, your job is to be a contact team and find the shooter," Kuper told the officers. "There's no time to help the injured. You have to keep moving."

Two main messages Kuper stressed were "the point man is never wrong," and "don't move faster than you can shoot."

"The main thing you want to remember is to always respond to any shots that are fired, it's not search as you go," Kuper told the officers.

Different kind of training

Field training like this has changed since the tragic shootings at Columbine High School more than a decade ago and others since at colleges and other schools across the nation, Kuper said.

"Before Columbine, regular officers didn't do much tactical training like this," he said. "That would be up to the SWAT teams. But we found out at Columbine that the time constraints between when regular officers arrived and the SWAT team was ready to go inside were too long. And they had communication problems between agencies."

Law enforcement agencies in Garfield County use compatible, scrambled radio systems, so those problems are eliminated, Kuper said.

Police Chief John Dyer said in an email that movement drills such as these are more complicated than they sound.

"As I said before, it goes against all police training in searching to leave areas behind us that have not been checked, so we have to use techniques that balances officer safety needs with the need to get to the trouble area as quick as possible," Dyer wrote. "That was part of the 'lessons learned' from Columbine, where the officers used standard search procedures, thus not getting to the danger area for a long time."

A retired member of the Garfield County All-Hazards Response Team, Kuper said the training follows National Tactical Officers standards and is taught at police academies in Colorado.

All Rifle patrol sergeants, detectives, lieutenants and sworn officers completed the training last week, Kuper said.

Look closely, be safe

When leaving a cleared room, Kuper reminded the officers to always stick a hand out ahead of their rifle, with a thumbs up signal, and say "coming out."

"The last thing I want to see coming out of a room is a rifle muzzle," he said. "That just gives the shooter an easy target."

When entering a room in two-man teams, Kuper said the officers needed to move through the door as closely together as possible.

In a real scenario, while the first officers on scene try to find the shooter, Kuper said the next team will focus on rescuing any citizens and treating the injured.

"We'll set up a casualty collection room where all the medical personnel can go and help anyone who needs it," Kuper said.

When it comes to locked doors, Kuper told the officers to "break your tunnel vision and really look at the door. Is it a push or pull door knob? That does make a difference in how you try to enter the room."

Corners and hallway intersections pose extra problems for officers in these situations, Kuper said.

"Because of the angles, you don't really know what you're walking into," he said.

Past movement training has taken place on shooting ranges, Kuper noted.

"I like to say we inoculate against the high stress you have in these situations by being on the range," he said. "But it's good to train in a building, too. You can go over other things that are just as important."

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The Post Independent Updated Mar 6, 2013 05:50PM Published Mar 6, 2013 05:38PM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.