Local officers trained in active shooter tactics

Saturday, July 27, 2013
A team of Nevada police officers and Vernon County deputies move in a protective formation down a hallway in the Nevada Middle School during and active shooter training exercise on Friday. Two sessions of the training were conducted by members of the Joplin SWAT team and 16 local law enforcement professionals participated in learning how to clear a building and react to an active shooter situation in a school or business. Nevada officer Patrick Deao leads the group as point man and is flanked by Sgt. Jimmie Dye on the left and officer Amber Williamson on the right while county deputies Michael Hicks and Alex Stimson and officer Brian Moorhouse fill in the middle of the formation. The rear of the group is protected by officers Brian Hansen and Daniel Hays.

During a training exercise that Nevada Police Chief Graham Burnley characterized as "essential to effective law enforcement," 12 Nevada police officers and four Vernon County Sheriff's Office deputies spent Friday morning at Nevada Middle School learning some of the tactics used by the Joplin Police Department and other larger departments to respond to an active shooter situation.

One of the first things officers learned was if they had to respond to such a call, they would probably be the only one on the scene. The training on Friday, however, concentrated on how to react to a situation as a team. Four officers from the Joplin SWAT team with well over 40 years of combined experience conducted the training.

The training the officers received was called just the basics by one trainer who often works undercover. Things like working from a formation that lets officers cover threats from all sides are basic but important principles that have to guide the group's efforts. A couple of points stressed were that as the group moves forward, don't move faster than you can shoot and don't forget the man bringing up the rear.

The officers divided into two groups and took different sections of the school to practice moving in unison, checking doors and turning corners. Using a diamond shaped formation each group learned that the point man stays the point man and the rear man stays the rear man. When a room is approached the side men of the formation cover each other and enter the room one behind the other.

The point and rear men continue to cover their areas. When a room is cleared, officers announce they are coming out and then move on down the hall. There is a lot of verbal and physical communication during an operation. The point man announces a door on the left, and the man on that side checks it. If its locked he says so out loud. If not, the other side man moves into position and usually puts a hand on his partner so he knows he is there before going into the room. Corners are announced. Stairs are announced.

Stairs and corners together present special problems. Trainers said the bigger the formation the better, especially in those kinds of situations. It is easier to cover several points with several guns, but a small group has to look up, back, to the sides and rear. Only when everything is clear can the group go up the stairs. And then it is in a single line or stack with each man keeping track of the man in front of him.

Trainees had to be aware that shots could be fired at any time during the exercise, and they were. Officers were advised that if they could hear gunfire, they should move toward it as quickly as safety would allow. Pass up the wounded adults, pass up the bleeding children -- get to the shooter if possible. If the shooting stops, resume the methodical clearing of the building one room at a time.

These tactics are common now, but in the past they were not. Burnley said, "there's been a lot of changes since I went to the academy." Burnley said he wanted to thank the Joplin Police Department for bringing this training to the city. It is one facet of an ongoing training regimen that keeps his officers developing as professionals. The training comes from different sources, and Burnley said the unit from Joplin was "anxious to come help."

Trainer Randy Black, a Joplin detective, said the local officers did "very well." He said the men were "very responsive to the training." The training officers do this sort of training "in house" on a regular basis and take it to other departments two or three times a year. The Vernon County Sheriff's Office has recently formed a SWAT team of its' own, and those deputies took part in Friday's training to bolster their skills. Burnley said he was happy to be working in conjunction with the sheriff's office. The training and cooperation prepares local law enforcement for any contingency.

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