Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Police conduct active shooter training at high school

On Friday, Feb. 12, shots were fired at Staley High School, and dozens of officers converged to stop three active shooters. No one was hurt. That’s because it was all a training exercise.

We’ve all heard about tragic school shootings that take the lives of innocent students and teachers. We are fortunate that none has happened here, but we want to be ready if it does. That’s why we do full-scale training exercises like this. Our Shoal Creek Patrol Division worked with the Clay County Sheriff’s Department and North Kansas City School District to arrange Friday’s scenario. The students had a half day for teacher in-service, and we waited until they left so as not to alarm them. The teachers then acted as students – hiding in classrooms or wherever they could to escape the gunmen.

Our patrol officers and Clay County Sheriff’s deputies then went about searching the school for the gunmen. They used airsoft weapons to simulate real firearms. They quickly found the three “shooters” and stopped them. (The face masks in the pictures were to protect participants' faces from the airsoft munitions.)

Two points of this are important. First: working with sheriff’s deputies. In the North Kansas City School District, Clay County Sheriff’s deputies serve as school resource officers (south of the river, in the KCMO district, our officers are the SROs). The deputies would be the first people dealing with any type of shooter event in the schools, and we need to be able to coordinate with them as much as possible.

Second: our active shooter response. Before the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado, many law enforcement agencies – ours included – took a very different approach to active shooters (and there hadn’t been that many before Columbine). The agencies would wait for their specially trained tactical units or SWAT teams to arrive to go into a building and stop the shooter. Columbine taught us that there is no time for that. We could not afford to sit and wait for tactical teams to arrive and stage while lives were at risk. So we changed our strategy. We trained all of our front-line patrol officers how to respond to an active shooter. We saw that pay off in the April 30, 2007, shooting at Ward Parkway Center. Regular patrol officers arrived within three minutes of the first report of a shooting, entered the mall and stopped the shooter. Tragically, the shooter had killed two innocent people in the parking lot first, but the officers stopped him before he could kill anyone inside the mall.

On Friday, we put our regular beat officers on the front lines of this training exercise at Staley High School. We want them to be ready because they would be the ones responding to something like this. Our commanders were pleased overall with how the training went, and they’ll be meeting with Staley High School staff soon to get their feedback.

We did a similar training scenario at Fox Hill Elementary School last year, and we’ll likely do more in the future. We hope for the best – that a school shooting would never happen here – but we must prepare for the worst.

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