The Port Arthur News
The role of local law enforcement drastically changed after two teenage boys walked into Columbine High School in Littletown, Colo., and opened fire in 1999. Though local police arrived quickly, they waited nearly 45 minutes for the “elite” police team to assemble and go through the school.
In that time frame, 10 people were shot and killed, while one teacher bled to death. Thirteen victims died that day.
Whereas police officers had little, if any, training with hostages and active shooters in populated areas like schools before that instance, they are now provided access to classes that will teach them methods of handling and disabling an active shooter.
Many have called it a “shoot first” technique, but there’s much more planning, teamwork and communication that goes into it.
Several Southeast Texas law enforcement agencies, including Port Arthur and Groves police departments, participated in an Advance Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training class at Hamshire-Fannett Middle School Thursday.
“We learned after Columbine,” said Jefferson County sheriff’s Deputy Rod Carroll. “The police showed up and waited for SWAT, and now police officers are trained to challenge and taken down attackers.”
The class of more than 20 seasoned officers was broken down into groups to carry out several different scenarios in the school hallways.
The officers wore bulletproof vests, masks, helmets and throat protection, and were armed with guns that contained colored soap pellet rounds. Though the bullets are designed to not cause major damage, they can still break skin and travel fast.
“They’re going really fast and they could take an eye out,” said Dave Austin, a retired Austin police officer and ALERRT instructor, who helped lead the groups Thursday.
“We’re safe and want no injuries,” Austin said, referring to why all roles are usually filled by officers, even nonshooter and nonpolice roles. “We want as much control over what’s going on while letting the officers go through the scenario.”
A grant from the federal government is put aside for law enforcement officials to get trained for an active shooter, Austin said. They usually set up in a school, which has long hallways and large doorways to give the officers a real sense of what could happen.
During one scenario, a group of five officers were given a prompt that an armed gunman was seen entering the school by parents in the carpool lane and front-desk workers. No shots had been fired yet, according to the prompt.
The men donned their gear and holsters and walked strategically through the hallways before locating the four suspects and shooting at them precisely.
A masked roleplayer ran past the officers who all had their weapons raised, ready for any surprises. They took down the suspect and rushed into a classroom with multiple “students” and a teacher lay on the ground with wounds.
Though each role player (shooter, officer and student) was wearing protective headgear, the situation had a sense of reality — from the planetary orbs hanging from the ceiling to the Hamshire-Fannett Longhorn painted on the wall.
Mike Carroll, an ALERRT instructor, commended the group for their constant communication and calmness during the situation.
“You took care of the threat down the hall, put the suspect down and pumped the brakes like you were supposed to,” Mike Carroll said. “There was constant communication and you slowed things down — you did a great job.”
Rod Carroll said that he is happy to report that there are not many situations where Active Shooter training will come in handy in Southeast Texas.
“However, fail to plan and plan to fail,” Rod Carroll said. “The methodology they use in this class is not what normal patrolmen use on a daily basis.”
He said that after Columbine, officers were taught to “charge, charge, charge” to save lives faster and more efficiently. Unfortunately, these reactionary techniques have come into play several times recently with the school attack at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., the theater shooting in Aurora, Colo. and the shooting at Santa Monica College earlier this month.
Southeast Texas has been lucky, Rod Carroll said, but it’s best to be prepared.