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Preparing for the worst

Posted: Wednesday, Aug 1st, 2012

Brookings Assistant Police Chief Dave Erickson, left, and Officer Jordon Hansen enter a classroom at Brookings High School last week as part of a practice scenario during Active Shooter Rapid Deployment training. / From left, BPD Lt. Dan Jungen, Officer Michael Scott, Lt. Joey Collins, Sgt. Joel Perry and Officer Joe Fishbaugher prepare to enter another classroom as part of the practice search. Brookings Police Department photos

• Brookings police train for active shooter, plan to respond within minutes to situations like Columbine, Aurora

BROOKINGS – Brookings police want you to know that, should a situation like the July 20 shooting in a Colorado movie theater happen here, they will be ready.

The law enforcement world learned its lesson from Colorado’s first shooting spree in 1999, Brookings officers said, and has changed its training to prepare for “active shooter” situations like these.

That’s why last Wednesday, all Brookings Police Department (BPD) officers once again completed Active Shooter Rapid Deployment training.

Police Chief Jeff Miller said prior to the shooting by two students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., police were trained to wait for the SWAT team to cover the situation. But about 35 minutes passed between when a Columbine teacher called 911 and when the SWAT team was in place. By the time SWAT actually entered the school, an hour had passed since the two student shooters had committed suicide.

“Prior to Columbine, when we deployed as a SWAT team, we went and it was slow and it was methodical,” Miller said.

“Not just Columbine, Colo., learned, but all law enforcement agencies learned that when you have an active shooter – and that’s the key word, when you have an active shooter and this event is still going on – you don’t have time, No. 1, to wait for the SWAT team to arrive, and No. 2, you can’t do the room-by-room, slow, methodical search. You go to wherever that threat presents itself, and you go there immediately.”

David Erickson, assistant chief and commander of Brookings’ six-member Special Response Team (SRT), helped to lead the Rapid Deployment training inside Brookings High School July 25 with SRT members Officer Drew Garry and Lt. Dan Jungen.

Jungen said the three-hour training began with basics and built to more complex situations, as the officers walked through their plan of action. Some played roles during the training, such as hostages, Jungen said.

Police used real Glock pistols in the training, which have the same approximate weight, size and functioning as their duty weapons. The difference is that they shoot paint balls.

“It’s propelled by gunpowder, just like a regular round. Much lower velocity, obviously,” Jungen said.

The paint balls do hurt when they hit, and firing them makes a loud pop.

“It’s not the Wild West, and they’re not really hot-doggin’; they know there’s consequences if you make mistakes,” Jungen said. “You’re not just going in there with your fingers, ‘bang, bang, bang,’ where there’s no consequence if you mess up. You get immediate feedback if you make a mistake.”

BSD has been hosting this training annually for about five years, Erickson said, and has not yet had to put it to use. Now, the department will increase the training to twice a year to keep it fresh in their minds.

Training is done in Brookings school buildings, while school is out of session, but the techniques can be applied in any setting.

All officers trained

Every officer – BSD currently has 31 – is required to attend. If Brookings has an active shooter situation, any cop on-duty at the time will be called to the scene; the first four or five to arrive will enter the building, Jungen said, and take charge of the situation until SRT arrives.

“These are going to be the first: Patrol officers that are working at that time on shift are going to make a break for the school. They’re going to come in, they’re going to engage them with the training we’re doing today, while they’re waiting for SWAT. When SWAT arrives, they’ll take over.”

When officers in patrol gear walk into an active shooter situation like that, they are vulnerable because they’re wearing protective vests but not the full gear of an SRT member. Not only that, Erickson pointed out, but they are agreeing to put their own safety below that of the citizens they are trying to protect.

“All these officers, when we put them through the training here, are made aware of the risk they’re taking personally in responding to something like this,” Erickson said.

“We have what’s called the priority of life, and the top of that priority are the hostages or other citizens, and the officers are below that. So, they go into this understanding that their health and well-being is put below that of our citizens that we’re sworn to protect.”

“And that is a change in our typical mentality,” Miller added. “Because in any other incidents – you know, on a traffic stop, we consider officer safety No. 1. When the officer is doing that or entering a building if there’s been a burglary or robbery or something, officer safety is No. 1. But in a case like this, that gets shifted down to the very bottom.

“You go there, and you go immediately,” he said.

Contact Charis Prunty at cprunty-@brookingsregister.com.

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