Macon County Chronicle

Officers Train to Enter "Kill Zone"

The Macon County Sheriffs Department held a 32-hour P.O.S.T. (Police Officers Standard and Training) class, on Wednesday and Thursday, July 14th and 15th, with officers from the Clay County Sheriff’s Department, Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, Lafayette Police Department, and Portland Police Department, also attending. The focus of this class was one of the most dynamic situations that any officer will ever face in the line of duty, which is responding to an active shooter and entering the “kill zone.”

An active shooter is a person who appears to be actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area, usually using firearms, with no pattern or method to their selection of victims. How officers respond to an active shooter will be dictated by the specific circumstances of the event, keeping in mind there could be more than one shooter involved in the same situation, which evolves rapidly, demanding immediate deployment of law enforcement resources to stop the shooting and mitigate harm to innocent victims.

In less than 33 years, the U.S. law enforcement community has experienced two watershed events, which ultimately shaped an officer’s response to incidents involving an active shooter. The first rude awakening was perpetrated by Charles Whitman, who killed 15 people and wounded 31 others, from the clock tower at the University of Texas at Austin, in a sniper incident that lasted 90 minutes. The second was Columbine High School, on April 20th, 1999, where Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris killed 13 people and wounded 24, within 13 minutes of the first police call.

Unlike Whiteman’s sniper incident, the Columbine massacre was planned around explosives, after Klebold and Harris placed a large improvised bomb in the school cafeteria with a timer set to go off where the lunch crowd would provide nearly 500 victims. The killers planned to shoot any fleeing students from positions they would take outside in the parking lot, but when their bomb failed to detonate, the two teenagers entered the school to kill who they could with firearms.

In researching the Whitman shooting, little criticism of the police could be found, however, at the Columbine incident the police were loudly criticized. Police agencies across the United States have joined in the condemnation of the response to the attack at the high school in the small suburban town of Littleton, Colorado, where SWAT units deployed as quickly as possible, and made entry into the school within 45 minutes of the first call, while unfortunately the shooters committed suicide at about the same time they entered the other side of the massive school.

The current movement to train patrol officers to respond using Rapid Deployment tactics began in the aftermath of the Columbine shooting incident.  While response strategies like Rapid Deployment have been around for a while in several forms, emotions surrounding the Columbine situation, after the two teenagers embarked on a killing spree, caused many officers to insist they would “never again wait for SWAT” at the scene of an active shooter.

What is Rapid Deployment? It is a response strategy utilizing a small team of patrol officers to assault and neutralize an active shooter. The theory behind Rapid Deployment is: we can’t afford to wait for the arrival of a SWAT unit when a killer is actively shooting victims.

With Rapid Deployment, a team of patrol officers, preferably armed with shotguns or carbines, will enter the “Kill Zone” and move rapidly to make contact with the shooter. Standard SWAT entry tactics, such as the systematic clearing of all rooms, are not used during Rapid Deployment. The contact team’s job is to move rapidly through an area to find and neutralize the active shooter…to essentially run to the sound of gunfire.

Depending upon the circumstances, the contact team may bypass downed victims and proceed past obvious hazards, such as explosive devices. Two types of teams are generally developed with the mission of the first Contact Team to find and neutralize the active shooter. One or more rescue teams will then deploy to deal with any victims bypassed by the Contact Team.

The P.O.S.T. class, which was instructed by Deputy Matt Looper & Sgt. Larry West of the Macon County Sheriffs Dept., Sgt. Jeff Tucker of the Lafayette Police Department and Macon County Constable Tom Dallas, used both classroom and training exercises during the 32-hour program, with several scenarios activated. The exercises for the officers involved role-players as suspects and victims, combined with a stressful setting and the use of specialized training weapons (Airsoft) that were used during force-on-force situations, which builds requisite skills for this high-risk course of action.

Also attending the training session was Jim Dooley, State Wildlife Officer from Macon County and Leslie Berdgorff, Paramedic with the Macon County EMS, who is trained as a Tactical Medic.

“This two-day intense training class was one of the best we’ve ever attended,” said Sgt. Pat Mullins along with Lt. Dewel Scruggs, of the Portland Police Department. “The drills and tactics were well instructed and we’ll come back anytime we’re invited.”

“I agree with the Portland officers,” said Nick Carter, the School Resource Officer from Jackson County, “this is a great group of law enforcement personnel here in Macon County, they are very knowledgeable and I’ll definitely be back again next year.”

“The instructors were very supportive,” said Deputy John McLearran of the Clay County Sheriffs Department, “and if you made a mistake, they broke it down and walked you through it. This training mission was to teach those of us who are the first on the scene to safely and effectively respond to an active shooter, as we enter the “kill zone.” These instructors have definitely provided us with the knowledge to have a higher likelihood of success in such an event.”

The Macon County Sheriffs Department would like to extend a Thank You to the Macon County Board of Education for the use of the Macon County High School and to Dale Hix for the use of the old American Greeting building.