Mass shootings have become common conversations over the last decade. With last week’s shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, those conversations have again reached a peak, making Tuesday’s topic during the Sedalia Police Department’s Citizen Academy more relevant than usual.
Nineteen students have been attending the academy for the last five weeks under the direction of Sgt. Brad Beard, learning about collecting evidence, how to become a police officer, and how to handle disturbances. On Tuesday night, the class heard from Officer Ryan Reed about immediate reaction response training, which SPD officers go through annually.
“We have it in some form at least annually,” Cmdr. Larry Ward told the Democrat on Wednesday. “We try to use different facilities, different scenarios. Knowing that you can never plan for everything, but you have to at least plan for something. … We try to get it in realistic scenario locations. We’ve used different locations, different scenarios.”
Reed, who helps train Sedalia officers on a variety of topics, told the class about the training officers receive in preparation for an active shooter situation, noting that they must be prepared for it to occur in many possible locations and circumstances. He said they have trained at State Fair Community College, Smith-Cotton Junior High, and trained at Smith-Cotton High School right after it was built to learn the layout.
“Our active training is tailored for everything,” Reed said when an academy student asked if they’ve trained for specific shooters, such as a religious extremist.
While both Reed and Ward declined to give specifics about immediate reaction response training due to security reasons, both included the fact that an officer will never enter a building with an active shooter alone. Information usually comes from a third party who called 911, and if students and staff are huddled in a locked classroom, there’s not an active set of eyes on the suspect as they move through the building, Ward said.
During Reed’s lesson, he said during most building searches two officers will enter a building, but during a situation like an active shooter, four-man teams will search together in a diamond formation.
“The reason we have a man in the back because, almost all schools rotate around,” Reed said. “… When we go in there, we can’t pass a place until we clear it, and we can’t leave it alone if it’s possible someone can go back in that room. So if you’re going through a hallway clearing rooms and someone jumps in the room behind you, you keep going and you miss them (without someone in the back).”
Reed also noted there are many aspects of an active shooter situation that can be difficult to handle and prepare for, such as it being mentally difficult for an officer, especially if the situation happens in a school setting with a young student behind the gun.
“Imagine one student with a gun. Are you familiar with the hallways at the high school? Now imagine 200 students running through and screaming bloody murder,” Reed said. “We can’t take a shot unless we can reasonably think that it’s safe.
“… Our response has to be quick, fast, and we have to get up on the suspect as quick as possible.”
Reed also replied to a question about helping a victim while the shooter is still at large. He said while officers may want to stop and help the injured, they are trained to keep going forward until the shooter has been apprehended, which in the end could save more lives, Beard added.
While SPD officers don’t usually train with other local agencies, local officials have spoken with each other to form a plan for these types of situations. Ward said if the situation warranted it, SPD would “use the team approach” and contact the Pettis County Sheriff’s Office, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, Sedalia Fire Department and the Pettis County Ambulance District. A protocol is already in place on having PCAD stage in a safe area away from a possibly dangerous situation and wait for the all-clear to be brought to the scene.
Law enforcement officers also talk with schools and obtain blueprints of schools and factory-type facilities to familiarize themselves. Reed said he often does building checks at schools while on patrol to help the staff feel safe, and to become familiar with the building itself.
SPD officers receive more training than the average department — active shooter and other trainings — as evidenced by comments officers receive when at state and national conferences. Ward said SPD has firearm training at least four times a year, even though the state only requires officers to renew that training once a year. The department also has two in-service classes each year, with four dates in the fall and spring for officers to choose from to obtain their continuing education hours required by the state.
Ward added that SPD officers are always over the minimum hours needed, and that in his 27 years with SPD they’ve been known as a training agency.
“Some of these classes, it costs $150 to $500 bucks to send one officer, so we went and trained a bunch of people on numerous different things by sending one officer, then they can come back here and teach the rest. It’s good fiscal management,” Ward said.
“We’ve sent some of our folks to different locations. There’s all kinds of theories, all different outlooks on this type of activity as far as training,” he added. “We routinely send folks to get training, find what’s the most current training or trends.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1482 or @NicoleRCooke.