By ALICIA LEONARD
School shootings are nothing new. They have been occurring since 1966 with the University of Texas at Austin massacre with 18 people losing their lives. On April 20 1999, 15 students lost their lives in what has become known as the Columbine High School Massacre. Since Columbine, experts have debated how that situation was handled. News networks showed responding officers awaiting a specialized team such as S.W.AT. to come in and take over the situation. This has caused debate and a new method of handling school shootings to be used.
Ron Borsch, a 30-year police veteran and manager of the SEALE training academy in Bedford, Ohio, has written a report advocating first responder or single officer pursuit in case of an active shooter situation. Borsch estimates that during Columbine, the killing of all victims was completed in under eight minutes. Some other statistics from Borsch, based on his analysis of 90 active shootings, is that every second that passes is critical, 98 percent of killers act alone, 90 percent commit suicide on site and the average killer hit rate is less then 50 percent. This brought Borsch to the conclusion that if responding officers were trained to act alone on a site while back up was en route and how to layer the approach as more back up arrives, could save precious lives.
During the last two weeks, the Walton County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) has been utilizing some of these new tactics in their training. The WCSO used the Freeport High School and volunteers from the DeFuniak Springs Boys and Girls club in an effort to train first responders and School Resource Officers (SRO), should the situation ever arise.
“Many of our schools have SROs and they need to be trained to go after and contain a threat on school grounds while other officers are in route to the scene,” said WCSO Sgt. Andy Casavant. He reminded officers before the three-hour practical training that the protection of victims comes first. “You, as the officer, have to remember that your safety only comes in front of one other person in the hierarchy of a school shooting. You come before the perpetrator. Everyone else comes before you. “Average response time to an emergency call is five minutes but with a SRO on the grounds, response can be immediate,” said Casavant. “This training shows officers how to contain a shooter, save victims and teaches responding officers how to enter a building in layers as they arrive.”
Trainers placed the kids in different locations throughout the school and placed different tags on them explaining their injuries to the responding officers. Another child played the role of the shooter and was placed by a trainer in another area of the school, to hide. The possibility of a second shooter was also brought into play and placed in a different area.
Responders used plastic fake firearms in place of their guns and soon the exercise was underway. Responders heard a few pops from a toy gun, the kids started to play their parts and call out for help and the first officer on the scene entered the building. By the time the first officer had made his way to the back of the hallway and second officer had responded and began to work towards the first responding officer.
Each responding officer started to enter in waves thereafter and soon the victims were being taken to triage and the officer had found the shooter and contained the scene. They then ran the scenario a second time to improve response time.
Casavant said afterwards of the training, “It’s something we hope we never have to deal with, but we are prepared through these exercises to respond no matter how many officers are on the scene and not to have to wait for a specialized response team. The training we have been doing for the last two weeks makes our officers feel more confident in their response and increases the security to the families and educators in our area. This training could be the difference in who lives and dies in this type of situation, where each second counts.”