Friday, June 05, 2009

Realistic scenarios prepare officers for the worst

SPRINGFIELD — Four officers, guns drawn, formed a tight circle as they worked their way down the silent hall where an armed suspect had just shot a woman and fled to a classroom.

Though they knew the greatest danger they faced in the halls of the former South High School on Friday, June 5, were the small red welts left by the pellets loaded in the Airsoft guns, officers participating in the “reality-based” training acknowledged accelerated heart rates and other signs of stress.

Thanks to a grant that allowed the Springfield Police Division to purchase Airsoft guns — which look, sound and feel like the real thing, but shoot only small white pellets that leave a mark but don’t break the skin — a “cutting edge” technology that allows officers to simulate an active shooter scenario from start to finish, said Sgt. Joe Tedeschi.

“This makes it more real by way of force on force,” he said.

Springfield officers have done the training, and this week 46 officers from across Clark County participated in daylong sessions of classroom work and scenarios in the halls of South, he said.

Active shooters are commonly thought of as school shooters but in recent years, those shootings have happened in other gathering places within a community, such as churches or government offices, Tedeschi said.

Although the shootings aren’t common, departments have to be prepared, he said.

“We have to take precautions,” he said. “It could happen anywhere.”

In addition to playing out active shooter scenarios, the training sessions help officers develop other skills useful on the job every day, such as communication, assessing situations and searching a building, said Lt. Lee Graf.

“Even though we’re training for an active shooter, training for the worst-case scenario, it plays on all the fundamentals,” he said.

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