Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Shootout training prepares campus for the worst

The question of how San Diego community colleges would respond to a potential school shooting has been thoroughly considered by the administrative and protective services of all three of San Diego's district colleges. With the average response time to most emergency scenarios being five minutes or more, it is a difficult subject for police to address. But some distinguished district officers have come up with an interesting solution to keep costs down, and police training up, by utilizing what some would call a popular kids game; Airsoft. Richard Ferrell, Police Officer and Firearms Instructor for the San Diego Community College Police Department since 2000, has stated that the SDCCPD has conducted mandatory school shooting trainings every six months paid for by the department since 2005. Known as "Active Shooter" trainings, these include 10-30 volunteer 'civilians', visual effects, professional audio equipment, true-to-life 'Airsoft' weaponry, and officers charged with the task of moving through the campus securing frightened students and mainly, eliminating those who are actively killing. They usually occur during the weekends when campuses are empty, and declare the area off limits using police tape.Shootings are a tricky issue because of the time gap between when the shooting starts and when officers arrive. Kristen Gelineau of the Associated Press has said, "Virginia Tech and city police spent three minutes dashing across campus to the scene and broke into the chained-shut building, which took another five minutes." According to several reports, most of the students who died at Virginia Tech died within those first several minutes.When asked about the time gap, Officer Ferrell said, "That gap in time is addressed in all of our trainings. We address breaching techniques and knowing the layout."Ferrell also mentioned how trainings cycle between all four of San Diego's community college campuses so they can stay up to date on the changing landscape as construction progresses to keep response time minimal."We do not wait for help, we do not wait for cover, that's how important this is to us. There are always police officers on all of our campuses," Ferrell said.He also mentioned a new initiative that the Firearms Tactics Unit, consisting of six distinguished SDCCPD personnel who have been working on pioneering as a public awareness campaign that is being shared with the SDCC staff."We have just started educating the leaders of each educational institution because those are the people that students will be in contact with," said Ferrell.If the county promotes the program, we could see teachers being trained by law enforcement on how to respond in a life-threatening situation, and some say that's just the solution that we need.Linda Farnan, a personal instructor of self-defense and the Co-Director of the Mesa Speech and Debate Team advocates training for teachers, saying that "Installing (training) programs is necessary if we truly want to prevent deaths from not just school shootings, but any disaster scenario.""This initial response is what needs to be trained," Farnan said. It isn't arguable that the police trainings are pivotal to student safety, and this highlight calls attention to the student's behavioral role that results in the deaths that occur during a shooting scenario.Mesa College student Andrew Smith, an anthropology major, said that if he heard muffled pops followed by screams on campus and didn't know what was happening, he very well might respond by investigating which could be dangerous."I would probably stop and look," Smith said.And Christian Alvarado; a biology major on campus, when asked if he knew what a gun sounded like, said he had only heard one gunshot in his life.This poses the question of who should be receiving the training, the teachers or the students?And Kim Gerhardt, Co-Director of Forensics and professor at Mesa College says, "We are the front line between the gunman and the students."Officer Ferrell agreed that gunshots can be difficult to identify depending on the location, surroundings, and environment, "We do exercises to train officers on hearing gunshots. It's difficult to identify if they're coming from inside or outside." Ferrell said.It's training programs like Officer Ferrell's and the Firearms Tactics Unit's public awareness initiative that are being looked at as effective safeguards worthy of financial investment.Being on duty during the time of the interview, Ferrell said if he heard a gunshot he would not be afraid to put himself in harm's way.But without taxpayer dollars, not even the training that's happening today would be possible.Robert Paul Frigerio, a volunteer coordinator for 858airsoft, one of San Diego's biggest Airsoft communities and a participant in the Active Shooter trainings says paying for the whole program is pivotal."What it really comes down to is funding. Since Active Shooter does not yet have a prescribed and established funding technique, the department has an issue with who it sends its funds to."Frigerio continued by advocating for Airsoft as a way to keep costs down over other department standards."The Airsoft way is financially more viable. Even using blanks in a real weapon is much more expensive."And that's something that Officer Ferrell was happy to put his name behind,He described one of the districts current standards, 'simmunitions'."Simmunitons are actual bullets with the metal tips replaced by a small plastic paint filled capsules and officers use actual firearms during simulation. The bullets are about $2.50 cents a round and we use roughly 2,500 rounds in a training course."That's $6,250 per training spent on ammunition alone.Officer Ferrell then expressed his approval of Airsoft as a new department standard, saying "The initial cost for training with Airsoft equipment is probably around $15,000, then $100-$200 annually for ammunition and upkeep. Airsoft is chump change compared to everything else."With San Diego's huge budget deficit and the crippled United States economy, it will be interesting to see where the city decides to send its taxpayer dollars.If you're interested in finding out more information or becoming part of the program as a volunteer, contact Officer Ferrell at rferrell@sdccd.edu or visit the forum at 858airsoft.com.According to Rob Frigerio, "We are always looking for volunteers."

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