Law enforcement has changed dramatically over the years, and in order to meet the challenges of the future, the officers must prepare today, by continuously upgrading their knowledge, skills and techniques.The Macon County Sheriffs Department held a 40-hour P.O.S.T. (Police Officers Standard and Training) class, on March 21st through March 25th, with officers from the Trousdale County Sheriffs Department, Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, Lafayette Police Department, and Westmore 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 patrol rifles, 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 Detective Matt Looper & Captain 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 40-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.
Leslie Berdgorff, a Paramedic with the Macon County EMS, taught a 4-hour block on tactical first aid, with the help of Eddie Sells.
“This intense training class was certainly educational and the instructors were excellent,” said Deputy Gary Wright, of the Trousdale County Sheriffs Department. “All the different agencies worked together just like we were one department and we certainly hope we are invited back again next year.”
“It mentally prepares patrol officers to be ready if a situation were to occur in a work place or in one of the local schools,” commented Sgt. J.J. Ruiz, of the Lafayette Police Department. “The drills and tactics were well instructed and the training makes Macon County a safer place to live. Everyone was very supportive of each other and if we didn’t understand a technique, the instructors would break it down and walk us through it.”
“The instructors were definitely very supportive,” noted Macon County Deputy Jacob Law, “and I wish it was mandatory that officers learn these useful techniques that can definitely save lives when we are on the job.”
Constable Rick Noble stated that it was an eye opening experience and more classes like this are needed in Macon County and other county agencies.
Trousdale County Deputy Larry White stated, “These instructors definitely did a wonderful job and they have provided us with the knowledge to have a higher likelihood of success in such an event, and I certainly hope we are invited back again next year.”
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 Junior High School, Dale Hix for the use of the old American Greetings building, and the Lafayette Fire Department for the use of their classroom.