Monday, July 07, 2008

Police officers train for shootings at Ball State with airsoft guns

Four Kokomo Police Department officers ready to storm the building. Equipped with masks and airsoft guns, they rush into the Johnson Residence Hall at Ball State University .
As the officers rush in with an instructor following them in a neon vest, they find a disheveled room with chairs and mattresses festooned along the floor.

They keep moving through the room, patrolling for any shooters, and they pass through a door. As they enter, the lead officer trips over a string that is attached to a chair.
“It’s a booby-trap,” one of the Kokomo officers says.

“All right, the first officer is dead,” the training guide says.
The first officer – the one who tripped the trap – drops to the ground. The others proceed with their emergency response exercises. In this case, the emergency is a shooter.

Gene Burton, Ball State University director of public safety, said the training sessions combine classroom work and a realistic simulation to teach about 70 officers how to combat an active shooter.
“I think they are vitally important,” Burton said.

Plans on paper are important to have, he said, but plans lose value if officers don’t have hands-on training in those situations. Also, campus incidents such as the deadly shooting at Virginia Tech in April 2007, emphasize the importance of these exercises. Tech student Cho Seung-Hui killed 32 before taking his own life.
Ball State held a similar training session five or six years ago in the Burris Laboratory School , and it was Ball State ’s turn to hold the training event. Training events occur throughout the state at various locations.

“We try to do something to this effect yearly,” Burton said.

The cost of the exercises would be minimal, Burton said, but most of the costs would be labor costs where departments would pay officers and instructors overtime for the training. Airsoft guns are cheap, especially compared to simunitions.
Russ Tussey, a Peru Police Department police officer, said training sessions such as these offer the most realistic experience for an officer trying to learn what to do with an active shooter. Tussey went to Ball State ’s training instead of other police training sessions elsewhere because of the realism its course would offer.

“As a law enforcement officer, our job is to move toward that target,” he said. “That’s the most difficult part. That’s why we train like this.”
Tussey said the training offers applicable knowledge because there is always a potential to have a shooting happen at the local high school or an office building in town.

Jeff Whitesell, a Yorktown police officer, said he’s attending the training sessions because of the importance of knowing what to do if a shooting ever happens.
“I don’t think you can put a value on this training,” he said.

Whitesell went to Ball State ’s training because it was local, and if a shooting ever happens at a local school, he would probably get the call. If a shooting ever did happen, he said, a police department could never get enough help.

The practice sessions continue Tuesday and Friday. Officers go through one, four-hour session to complete the training.

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