Local cops get realistic exercise in dealing with active shooters

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

A gunman was threatening to shoot a teacher in a classroom in a local school last week.

Students fled down a hallway, past police officers who were advancing toward the classroom, trying to figure out who was whom and what was happening as chaos unfolded around them.

Fortunately, it was just a drill.

Officers from four area police departments practiced last week at Lebanon’s Crowfoot School.

Lebanon School District is in the process of tearing down the school and made it available to officers from Sweet Home, Coburg, Junction City and Lebanon police departments on March 4 and 5. Eight students from Sweet Home High School helped out by playing the part of students in the scenarios faced by the officers. About 40 officers faced paint-filled ammunition while carrying airsoft pistols and rifles to shoot at the “bad guys.”

“Because of all the stuff that’s gone on recently, it’s something we felt needed to be done,” said Sweet Home Sgt. George Dominy. The last time Sweet Home had the opportunity for this type of training was when Sweet Home High School was demolished in 2003.

SHPD has added a number of new officers since then, and they hadn’t had the opportunity for the training, Dominy said. He saw that Crowfoot was scheduled for demolition and contacted other agencies and Lebanon School District to get the training going.

“It’s something that I feel is important,” Dominy said. “There’s a whole different response to an active shooter as opposed to a barricade or hostage situation.

“You’ve got somebody actually causing injury to people inside.

“In a barricade or hostage situation, you contain the bad guy. He’s not actively shooting people. You don’t want to provoke him into doing that.”

In hostage and barricade situations, 95 percent of the time they are resolved through negotiation with no shots fired, Dominy said. “With an active shooter, you don’t have that luxury. You can’t sit around and wait to make all kinds of plans.”

The active shooter doesn’t have an escape plan, Dominy said. Theirs is a suicide mission.

“You know you’re basically going into an ambush situation,” Dominy said.

Active shooters will tend to go into “target-rich environments,” such as a school, Dominy said. That provides a challenge for officers who are facing a murderous subject, meaning the shooter must be stopped quickly while officers avoid injuring the victims and before the shooter can injure any more.

“You have to get in the door and do the right assessment,” Dominy said, making sure there is an active shooter.

The better trained the officers, the more likely they’ll make the right call when they move into a building, Dominy said. “Sometimes, you can’t tell until you actually get inside.”

In the training, the officers move in as groups of four with their backs to each other. That gives them a 360-degree field they can cover at once.

If fewer officers are available, they simply have a wider individual field of coverage, Dominy said. Two officers must watch 180 degrees instead of the 90-degree fields they had during the training.

“You’ve got to be constantly scanning, scanning, scanning and looking,” Dominy said.

As they move in, the officers don’t know exactly what they’ll face.

“There’s going to be mass chaos,” Dominy said. That’s why it was important to have students involved.

Moving down the hall in several scenarios, the group of students fled past officers while a shooter was in a classroom ready to shoot a teacher. In such situations, officers must be able to detect the shooter, who might potentially be following and shooting at fleeing students.

In another practice scenario, strobe lights and fog simulated chaos that included an explosive device. In a real situation, an officer needs to be able to think clearly no matter how chaotic things are. The training helps them prepare for that.

Their mission is to stop the shooter, “to minimize the casualties as soon as we can,” Dominy said. “He’ll keep shooting till someone puts a stop to it.”

The officers cannot just sit back and wait for backup, Dominy said. The old adage that officers should lock it down until SWAT arrives is obsolete. Officers must move immediately.

“All these other people are depending on you,” Dominy said. “If you don’t do your duty, other people are in jeopardy.”

After the shooter was stopped in the training scenarios, the officers held a debriefing in which they examined their actions to see if they could make better decisions in the future, Dominy said.

Small agencies will be tapped quickly as they respond to these situations, Dominy said. That means other area agencies will respond to these kinds of situations, and it pays to have all of the officers working on the same page.

With the multi-agency training, which follows State Police and Department of Public Safety Standards and Training protocols, the officers can ensure, no matter who they are responding with, they know exactly what is expected when they arrive at an active shooter scene.

Dominy thanked the Lebanon School District for use of the school and School District 55 for allowing students to serve as role players. He also wanted to thank the other role players, police officers who spent their days off playing shooters.