Active assailant training a large focus for Pa. police

After shootings nationwide, some departments are focusing efforts on how to quickly and safely end mass casualty incidents

By Adrian Sipes
The Sentinel

CARLISLE, Pa. — As school-related and active shooting situations continue to plague the country, active assailant training is at the forefront of police training that officers undergo, a Carlisle Police officer said.

“That kind of shooting is an ongoing thing ... unfortunately we live in a society where now ... it’s something we are experiencing a little too much (of),” said Sgt. Adolfo Heredia, an officer with the Carlisle Police Department.

But how do police officers train for an active assailant situation? Are officers ready? What can be done to better police training?

According to North Middleton Township Police Chief Douglas Reitz, active shooting or assailant training has evolved over time, with updates coming from what Reitz and other police officers described as trial-and-error situations, which allows police departments to tweak their training to be better prepared for an active assailant event.

“One of the things that we’ve learned from the past is that it’s very rapid. We don’t have time to sit around” and wait to go into a building, Reitz said, adding that active assailant training is a high priority for police.

“That’s why we’ve had it twice this year (training),” he said. “You see stuff happening every day. The world has changed.”

And you have to change with it, Reitz said.

Sgt. David Miller explained that officers used to be trained to show up to an emergency situation, such as a shooting event, and set up a perimeter. However, following the 1998 Columbine school shooting in Colorado, in which 13 people were killed, Miller said law enforcement realized it was time for change and that they had to adapt.

At this time, police departments implemented training that called for the first responding officers to head into the active crime scene upon arrival, rather than waiting for the SWAT team. Additional officers would funnel in as they arrived to assist in neutralizing the situation. Miller said SWAT would enter the crime scene when they arrived on scene.

“Things are happening too fast now, we need to get officers in quickly,” he said.

Miller said this training worked well for the next 13 to 14 years, noting that everyone was good at it, and departments were implementing the desired training and tactics. That all changed, however, following the 2012 Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting that claimed the lives of 12 people.

Rescue Team
Officers used their training and did their job that day, he said, but the lives of those who could have been saved by treating their survivablewounds bled out and died because paramedics were unable to access the unsecured crime scene.

This is where the rescue team comes into the picture. It’s relatively new to the region, Miller said, but rescue training has been trained and talked about at the local patrol level for little over a year.

Miller said the Cumberland County Special Response Team (SRT) has been learning and conducting rescue training for around two years.

He added that the Law Enforcement Strike Team (LEST), as well as the Carlisle Police, have also been training for rescue team scenarios. The strike team is an entity within the South Central Task Force that encompasses eight counties.

Miller is the commander of the county’s SRT team, and is also a part of strike team.

“The whole idea is, and we actually use the phrase, there has to be two mindsets now,” he said. “We used to always have the mindset of stopping the killing, but now, along with stopping the killing, we have to stop the dying.”

The idea behind the rescue team is to get fire and EMS crews into the crime scene to tend to those involved in the emergency incident. Once the threat is neutralized or trapped, Miller said officers will grab fire and EMS crews and lead them into the “warm zone.”

The “warm zone” is area where the event isn’t specifically unfolding, but it’s not a guarantee that it is safe.

The officers’ role while this takes place is protect the medics as they move from victim to victim.

“There is no perfect way to do this, because the situations are going to be horrible,” Miller said. “Normally medics always work in pairs, but we’re going to split them up, because the idea is we need more groups. So, it is an evolving thing throughout the United States right now, where you have officers learning now to make use of small teams to actually bring in fire and EMS.”

Miller said he brought the rescue training to the Carlisle Police Department in January.

The department trained for it in February, and Carlisle Police also took part in training with Dickinson College Public safety and several other agencies in June.

The Law Enforcement Strike Team conducted rescue training for the first time in June, Miller said.

The North Middleton Township Police Department and the Carlisle Police Department, sometimes in conjunction with other agencies, undergo active assailant training numerous times throughout the year.

The training situations and scenarios vary depending on who sets up the training, Reitz said. Carlisle Police Chief Stephen Margeson said the officers who put the training together build in surprise scenarios to train officers to apply tactics that would be used in real situations.

“We basically set up a scenario, and officers respond to it as they might in real life,” Margeson said.

Margeson said the department will continue to train on an annual basis, in which his department will participate in training and scenario situations. He also spoke to the importance of being hands-on and physically train for actual situations, noting that officers practice in different buildings and settings.

“North Middleton police have used a building with the Carlisle Area School District at one time, and the YMCA let North Middleton and Carlisle Police use a building to utilize for training,” Reitz said.

One thing both Margeson and Reitz talked about was the importance of training with other agencies.

“We’re going to be the ones that all respond together and we need to know how each other operates, so training with one another lets us see how each department performs and we kind of get a feel for one another, because when we’re training together, we develop that bond, that trust, we know how each other is going to act when we respond to that certain situation,” Reitz said.

“Actually training with the people that in a real-life situation that are going to be your co-workers, your teammates, is a critical thing to do, so that, you know, at an emergency this isn’t the first time we’ve ever seen an officer from this agency come in to participate with us in a scenario,” Margeson said.

Reitz said he thinks his department is “sufficiently” prepared to handle an active assailant situation, and Miller said he thinks Carlisle Police officers are better trained than ever before now that active assailant training has been such a huge focus.

Copyright 2015 The Sentinel

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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