Local police participating in active shooter training

Training doesn’t stop after attending the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy.

Police officers around the state have a variety of training they are required to do on a regular or annual basis.

They may spend a couple of hours going through scenarios and talking about responses. Sometimes, they may take it a step further and do a simunition, which is the most realistic training without firing live bullets from a gun.

In this day and age, school shootings and mass casualty shootings occur all too often, and police also have to respond to threats of such events.

With a new school year approaching, Jackson County police departments felt it was an appropriate time to ensure their officers are prepared in case anything happens at local schools.

On Wednesday, members of the multiagency SWAT team spent four hours participating in active shooter exercises at Cortland Elementary School. The team consists of officers from the Seymour Police Department, Brownstown Police Department and Jackson County Sheriff’s Department.

In pairs, they responded to reports of an active shooter by running through the gymnasium, determining where the suspect was located and figuring out how to engage the shooter quickly to minimize life lost.

Then as a team, they went from the gymnasium down a hallway searching room by room along the way.

“To touch on all of the bases, from the prep of the call, the response, you going in to hearing what is going on or even that engagement of that role playing if that weapon is introduced, is that immediate reaction as to if it was real world. It’s as real as we can get,” said Lt. Brandon White, who handles training for SPD and is a member of the multiagency SWAT team.

While the officers hope they never have to respond to a school shooting, they feel it’s better to be prepared with training.

“I always classify it is like a Rolodex,” White said. “The officers rely upon their training along with what they’ve been exposed to, so if I can expose them to a scenario, then they have solutions that they have already worked through in their mind. By doing this type of training, it gives them those solutions and the correct response to have a good outcome. There isn’t failure. We don’t teach these guys to fail. We teach these guys to continue to succeed.”

If a school shooting did happen, White said the local response would be “astronomical.” That has been evident in recent years when threats have been made at local schools and in 2016 when there was a murder-suicide at the Cummins Inc. plant in Seymour.

“It’s going to be every single body, every single person that hears that radio traffic,” he said. “You’re going to get an overwhelming response if it is to truly take place.”

Keith Williams, a school resource officer for Seymour Community School Corp., said a few years ago, local first responders and students participated in a mass shooting exercise outside Seymour High School.

To have something just for local law enforcement, like what was done Wednesday where they had an opportunity to get inside a school and practice their tactics and response, was unique.

“We have highly, highly, highly trained professionals in this county, but nothing can replace experience when it comes to training,” Williams said. “You can sit in a classroom all day. You can sit behind a computer all day. You can watch videos all day. Until you get that practical application in place, you’ve got to build that muscle memory and build that familiarity with environments like this because it is unique.”

In his role, Williams has trained Seymour teachers and other school staff members on what to do in the event of an active shooter situation.

Those outside the school, like law enforcement and other first responders, need that training, too, he said.

“Now, we’re going to get that opportunity for law enforcement to come into these unique environments and to have that experience before they ever have to do it in real life,” he said. “We never want to be on the back side of being prepared. We always want to be on the front side of being prepared. This is just a prep for school to give the responding units that mindset and that response.”

Jackson County Emergency Management Agency also participated in Wednesday’s training, giving commands to the commanders on the scene. Williams said that agency is highly involved with the local schools by providing communications and supplementing what dispatch centers are able to do.

“They are part of our responding units,” he said. “We want to just give them the opportunity to come in, have the experience, build that muscle memory and then that way, when it happens, it’s not something that they are completely surprised about. They have that experience.”

Gabe Jordan with SPD and Jordan Hawn with the sheriff’s department were among those participating in Wednesday’s training. Hawn has been with the SWAT team for two years, and Jordan joined at the beginning of this year.

Hawn described the training as “awesome and essential.”

“This style of training helps build the muscle memory for responding to these incidents with speed and proper action to eliminate the threat to protect innocent life. This is a subject that I feel can never be trained enough,” he said. “I am grateful to have the opportunity to be a part of our multiagency SWAT team. We have a great group of officers who are eager to learn and have the willingness to protect the members of our community at all cost.”

Jordan said there are times when it’s necessary and proper to be prepared to protect the community from any sort of active shooter situation and to be ready and able to offer a firm, quick response if such an event was to occur.

“We want the community to know that we’re actively sharpening our skills so that in a worst-case scenario, such as the one in this particular training, we will be at our best,” he said.

“We certainly benefit as officers and as a department on the whole when we are able to do scenario-based trainings,” he said. “Going through a scenario from start to finish, from sprinting into the school to find and neutralize the threat as we did in this training exercise to navigating from entry to exit through the school, it was an immersive training experience which absolutely made us better as a team, as departments and as individuals.”

Williams said patrol officers with the city and county are going to do similar training this week, and Jackson County Sheriff Rick Meyer has scheduled active shooter training for his officers in August at Brownstown Central High School.