Police, deputies, state and federal agents and other law enforcement officers spent a few days at Georgia Southern University this week, shooting simulated weapons and reenacting real-life scenarios as they participated in an active shooter training exercise.
According to Bulloch County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Jared Akins, more than 60 law enforcement officers from his department, Georgia Southern University police, Statesboro police and Brooklet police, as well as from the Statesboro offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Georgia Bureau of Investigation and other local agencies, were trained during the four-day event led by the FBI and hosted by GSU at the College of Business Administration building.
The “Active Shooter Response” training consisted of two classes, where officers were “trained in tactics on how to respond should the area ever be faced with such an event” as an active shooter, he said.
Instructors from the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office and Statesboro Police Department conducted the training for the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) program, along with instructors from the Georgia State Patrol and the FBI’s Atlanta office, he said.
“The training sessions (were) comprised of classroom discussion and several scenarios of how to respond to an active shooter situation utilizing simunition weapons to create a more realistic training environment,” Akins said. Simunition weapons use plastic or rubber ammunition.
Having the training sessions with other law enforcement agencies is helpful in many ways, said interim GSU Police Chief Laura McCullough.
“We like to be prepared for the worst and hope for the best,” she said Wednesday. The training with several agencies accurately reflects how area law enforcement would work together should an active shooter situation arise.
“It’s good for all departments to work together,” she said. “It’s not just our department that is going to respond. We’re all learning the same tactics and getting used to working with people from other agencies.”
The Bulloch County and Statesboro area is blessed to have such a working relationship between law enforcement agencies, she said. “We’re all mixed together and working as one,” as would be the case should a real emergency situation occur. “We’re very fortunate here – a lot of places, you don’t have that camaraderie and willingness to work together.”
One of the course instructors, Bulloch County Sheriff’s Capt. Todd Mashburn, said the exercise is good for law enforcement officers as well as the public.
The course is “designed to take a set of skills, teaching officers from various agencies forming a team, to handle such an event. It gives them common skills to work on.”
Unlike officers trained specifically for high-risk emergencies, such as a SWAT team, the active shooter training enables other officers to get a sense of what could happen in such a volatile situation, he said. The training exercise help officers learn how to “enter a dwelling, school or building in the best possible way to save as many lives as possible as well as go home safe themselves.”
The course helps the public as well, by giving people what they want – better security, and a stronger sense of safety.
“Law enforcement owes it to the public,”Mashburn said. The focus on active shooter response grew after the Columbine, Colorado school shootings in 1999, and more recently this year, the attacks by shooters in Charleston, SC, where nine were killed, and the shootings in Chattanooga TN., where a man opened fire at two military centers.
The public demands we do more,” he said.
The ALERRT program, currently housed at Texas State University, was developed and adopted in Texas as a standardized method for responding to active shooter incidents, Akins said. “Since the development of the course, the federal government has recognized the program as being a national standard for law enforcement response to an active shooter event and contributed numerous tax payer dollars to implement the program across the nation. “To date, more than 50,000 law enforcement personnel have been trained in the ALERRT program with the numbers growing daily.”
With police response to active shooter incidents being a topic of concern nationwide, such training is vitally important for the safety of officers as well as for citizens, he said.
“The purpose of the ALERRT program is to address the ever evolving and changing methodologies of active shooters and develop ways for law enforcement officers to respond to such an event,” according to Akins. “It was not until the ALERRT program became the national standard for active shooter response that law enforcement officials across the nation had a commonly recognized way of dealing with the incident. The goal of the ALERRT program is to be able to train law enforcement officers from different agencies how to work together in small team elements when responding to an active shooter event.”
The better trained and prepared the officers are, the quicker they will be able to enter the scene and stop the threats that an active shooter poses to the public, he said. “The ALERRT program is designed to assist with this rapid response to such a tragic event and preserve the lives of as many innocent citizens as possible.”
After completion of the exercise, officers participating will have obtained skills to address a threat that hopefully never arises, he said. “The sheriff and chiefs of each of these organizations view this training as the beginning and not the end. They plan to conduct additional and refresher training to these officers in the future, so that they may be able to better respond.”
Local law enforcement leaders “feel that this and ongoing training in active shooter response is a vital and very important part of being able to provide the citizens of Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, and Bulloch County with the best services possible,” Akins said.
Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.