Active shooter training becomes a local staple
As law enforcement has gained experience from mass shootings of recent years, the response philosophy has changed from “contain and wait for the specialists” to “search and destroy.”
A Garfield County officer’s active shooter training begins at the Colorado Mountain College’s Colorado Law Enforcement Training Academy.
The 16-week CLETA program gives its cadets 12 hours of “rapid emergency deployment” training, up from the eight hours required by Peace Officer Standards and Training, said Kevin Brun, a CLETA instructor.
In the classroom, cadets review real active shooter incidents, said Brun. He noted that public shootings have happened so frequently that cadets often get to a review a fresh incident — maybe even something nearby like the attack of the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood.
Cadets drill on specific scenarios at CMC’s Spring Valley facility, with students and instructors play the roles of victims or shooters.
Shooter scenarios are also worked into any other classes dealing with use of force, Brun said.
When Brun started instructing at CLETA in 2001, the academy didn’t have a class that dealt with active shooter scenarios.
The 1999 school shooting at Columbine High School greatly changed how police respond to and train for shootings in public places, he said.
Active shooter training has largely been standardized across the country, said Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario, but the response strategy has changed.
Prior to Columbine, the tactic was to secure the perimeter and wait for a SWAT team, maybe for negotiators. But that strategy takes time, when every second could mean lives lost or saved.
“We found out during Columbine that approach didn’t work too well,” Brun said. “By the time they made entry, it was too late for most of the people inside.”
After dissecting many mass shootings, law enforcement leaders realized there was no time to wait for the specialists.
“We can’t hold off until the cavalry comes,” Vallario said. The philosophy now is that you have to eliminate the threat as soon as possible — otherwise the number of victims will keep growing, he said.
This also means that responders cannot stop to help the injured along the way. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, said the sheriff, but stopping the shooter is the first priority, and helping the wounded is secondary.
COP IS FIRST RESPONDER
Likewise, the closest cop to the scene became the first responder.
That was the case in the Planned Parenthood attack in Colorado Springs on the day after Thanksgiving, in which the first on the scene was a University of Colorado-Colorado Springs police officer — who was also killed.
The problem is the officers on the street aren’t decked out in tactical gear, said Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson.
Vallario said his department trains on firearms once a quarter, and at least once a year they hold training specifically for an active-shooter scenario.
Glenwood Springs police train for active shooter scenarios a couple times a year, said Wilson.
Recently, Garfield County law enforcement and emergency response agencies used Glenwood Springs High School for active shooter training, specifically focusing on emergency medical responders.
For these training drills the departments uses paintball or laser tag guns for the mock-shooter training. Wilson said officers even use “Simunition,” an intense version of airsoft pellets that are useful for simulation because they make “your adrenaline go through the roof.”
Though police officers and sheriff’s deputies are regularly preparing for the unthinkable, staff at government buildings and school faculty are just as likely find themselves on the front line of domestic terrorism.
Like law enforcement’s strategy for responding to public shootings, the strategy instilled in teachers and students has shifted.
Rather than locking the door and huddling into a corner, they’re encouraged to think about their situation, and if they see an avenue of escape, to take it.
Does it make more sense to climb out the window? Are you close to an exit in the hallway? And if a shooter does come into the room, can you fight back rather than just getting shot?
LEARNING ABOUT WEAPONS
Law enforcement, mostly the school resource officer, works with faculty around the beginning of the school year on safety issues, including the possibility of a shooter, Wilson said.
The agencies have been going into the county’s schools to talk to staff about these situations, teaching them about weapon nomenclature, what a pump-action shotgun is, how many bullets a particular gun has, Vallario said.
The sheriff recalled the shooter at Littleton’s Deer Creek Middle School in 2010 who was thwarted by a math teacher who knew the shooter had a bolt-action rifle. The math teacher charged the shooter when he knew he’d have to reload.
The sheriff’s office has also gone to other high traffic facilities to talk active shooter scenarios with employees, such as the Garfield County Courthouse and the area’s hospitals. The Glenwood Springs Police Department has done workplace safety talks with Colorado Mountain College and some businesses downtown.
State law now requires schools to have a plan for these situations, Wilson said.
Officers are trained to be familiar with the layout of local schools, the point of exit and entry, said the chief.
“But now we’re seeing a spread in the types of targets of these nuts,” said the chief. “I don’t see how law enforcement could train every person in every building for every eventuality.
“And now officers don’t know if they’re going to be dealing with an individual, multiple shooters, how well armed them are, whether they have explosives, booby traps.”
This is stuff the military and the FBI used to deal with, but now it falls to local law enforcement, Vallario said.
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