The day after the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., local law enforcement responded to the campus of the Technical College of the Rockies in response to the report of a 15-year-old student with a gun.
Officers from the Delta County Sheriff's Office, Delta Police Department and Colorado State Patrol responded to the 911 call fully expecting the worst. Fortunately, no shots were fired and no one was injured, but the incident heightened the need for additional active shooter training.
That training took place at Delta High School during spring break and involved every law enforcement agency in Delta County as well as the Colorado State Patrol.
DPD Commander Jesse Cox, who led the exercises on April 20, said no matter where the threat occurs, response will be immediate and widespread. "Everybody will be coming from everywhere, and it's important we're all on the same page."
And while the training was conducted in a school, active shooter incidents can occur anywhere, as news headlines have proven.
Cox said law enforcement was quick to respond to the 911 call at Grand Mesa Choice Academy -- and no one hesitated to enter the building immediately. "Everybody was doing something, but everybody was doing something different. It was kind of hectic and that's the last thing we need," he said.
So he developed a two-hour training session based on the tactics he's learned through his 23-year career and from classes offered by the DEA, FBI and U.S. Marshal's Office. In one class, an Army Delta Force commander taught the tactics anti-terrorist teams use in active shooter scenarios. "Those are the tactics we still use for multiple officer response," he said.
During the training sessions, he also addressed solo officer techniques he learned in a National Tactical Officers Association class. Since Columbine, officers no longer wait on the perimeter for the SWAT team to arrive. "We can't wait around," he said. "We go in immediately.
"The hardest thing for us is threat identification," he explained. In a school setting, students may be screaming and rushing out of the building while alarms are going off. Most of those students will have something in their hands, and officers have to decide in a split second whether it's a cell phone or a handgun.
"Only move as fast as you can think," he told the officers in his class.
He also urged them to consider their own safety. "If you go down, there will be no one to help the students," he said.
He outlined strategies for "active threats," where shots can be heard, and an "unknown threat." In the first case, officers rush quickly and decisively to the threat; in the second, they move more slowly, carefully clearing each room as they walk down the hallway, using their training to assess danger.
For a portion of the training exercise, Cox employed reactive targets. On one side the silhouette was holding a cell phone; on the other a gun was pointed at the officers. When they spotted a gun, they reacted quickly with shots fired from simulated Glocks. The pistols have the same weight and feel as a service weapon but instead of bullets, they fire a projectile that leaves a colored mark.
The pistols and the targets are shared by law enforcement agencies in the west central POST region, Cox said.
The two-hour training session provided only the basics, he added, and he encouraged the class participants to practice the tactics during their down time.
"We didn't do nearly enough repetitions to be great at these techniques," he said, "but if we do encounter one another in an active shooting setting, we will know what to do."
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