The Dalles Police recently revealed Newtown, Conn., mass shooter Adam Lanza picked a school for his killing spree because he wanted to surpass the body count of a Norwegian mass killer, and knew a school presented a high concentration of targets.
With that introduction from a trainer, area law officers recently received daylong training in responding to “active shooter” calls, specifically focusing on a school shooting.
Officers had a morning lecture, followed by an afternoon session of practical training with student role players.
Lt. Mike Herbes, regional/advanced trainer for the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, led the course.
When an active shooter call comes in, Herbes said an officer could “go from writing a ticket on a traffic stop to clearing a building under fire.”
“Fighting in buildings is the most violent type of fighting there is,” he said. He saw combat in the military, and also worked as a prison guard.
He discussed methods for safely rounding corners and entering rooms with a shooter in it. They are methods not typically taught at police academy, he said. “As police officers, we don’t train for this.”
After describing methods for entering a door, he said, “If you lose the
element of surprise and you walk through the door and they shoot you, that’s your fault.”
Focusing on traversing the “fatal funnels” of hallways and stairways, he taught simple methods, saying overcomplicated training wouldn’t translate to the field.
Since shooters typically barricade themselves in schools, breaching, or entering, a building then becomes a priority. Breaching can be as simple as opening an unlocked door or as extreme as ramming a police car through locked doors, he said.
Shotguns with shot can penetrate most any door, he added.
The Dalles Police Capt. Ed Goodman, who was at the training, said his department has breaching equipment in patrol cars.
Once officers are in a school at a shooting incident, Herbes urged them to do a “careful hurry” as they proceeded. “Don’t rush to your own deaths.”
He also said a shot person needs to be considered a threat, since he’s seen too many people he thought were “out of it” return fire.
Always handcuff a shooter, even if they appear fatally injured, and always take their gun, he said. Scooping up evidence like guns is contrary to normal police procedures, he said, but is necessary here.
He said the injured must be ignored as officers proceed to the shooter.
“I’m not carrying my aid bag. The best first aid is to win the gun fight.”
He said officers responding to a mass shooting will face sensory overload and a lack of — or wrong — information.
“It’s going to hit all of your senses,” he said. Various types of wounds even smell different, he said.
Responding to shootings in small towns would be even tougher because officers are more likely to know the kids.
“It may be a relative, it may be kids that you coached in Little League.”
As for the officers themselves, Herbes said a harsh reality is that some officers simply aren’t up to the task of responding to a shooting. He said a young, agile officer, fresh out of the military, could be paired with an officer nearing retirement, with bad knees.
Because of the varying abilities of officers, Herbes said he did not provide hard and fast rules for responding to an active shooting. He instead listed several “right” options for making key moves, and left it up to each officer on how exactly they would proceed.
He stressed the need to plan and coordinate with others before an incident occurred. Planning specific to schools includes everything from the location of school master keys to school layouts to deciding beforehand who will serve as a public information officer at a shooting and choosing a trusted school official to work with frantic parents at an incident.
Police also needed to learn where schools have hazardous materials like welding supplies, and where they keep medical supplies.
When police respond to a shooting, the issues they need to face are not only officer safety, but ensuring they don’t kill the kids they’ve come to protect.
That includes knowing what’s in the background when they take a shot, and making sure the person they’re shooting at is an actual threat.
Police need to focus on what’s in people’s hands, since someone holding a cell phone can look like someone holding a gun, Herbes said.
At least four innocent bystanders had been “shot” during the first three days of training, and two had orange safety vests on, and were “nowhere near the threat,” Herbes said. “Don’t have a painful lesson that you pay for in blood.”