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Posted: January 3, 2013 10:24 p.m.

Training to prevent tragedy

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The Newton County Sheriff's Office took part in simulated training to learn how to stop a shooter in a school.

It's the worst nightmare for parents and school staff, a shooter loose in the halls, but as the tragedies at Columbine and, most recently, Sandy Hook has taught law enforcement, they can never be too prepared.

For several years, the Newton County Sheriff's Office has made sure all of its deputies are trained annually in a program called active shooter. This year school resource officers (SROs) and supervisors conducted their training at the Newton College and Career Academy, incorporating the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, where 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and killed 26 - 20 of them elementary-aged children - before turning a gun on himself, into their lesson plan.

The active shooter program came about in part due to the Columbine High School massacre that took place in Colorado in the spring of 1999, when students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and one teacher and injured 21 others before killing themselves.

After the killings, authorities were criticized by many who believed a lack of action on their part while waiting for a SWAT Team to arrive resulted in the loss of several lives.

Active shooter simulations have a variety of scenarios that prepare law enforcement to act in any situation.
Officers have previously practiced in churches, schools and other businesses. In this year's case, there were three separate scenarios that deputies had to respond to inside a school, taking into account the layout of the building and classrooms - plenty of places for a shooter to hide.

According to head SRO Deputy Cortney Morrison, there were two, two-man teams responding to an active shooter, there was also a scenario where a single deputy responded to an active shooter in the school and the last was a non-compliant parent, wandering the school in a mask that deputies had to make contact with and use their tools and training to make an arrest. Although there is no immediate danger for deputies, there are pellets and blank bullets being fired, and deputies have to take into account other people in the school. In many cases drama students at the local schools, along with other residents, will be tagged to play victims during active shooter scenarios to prepare law enforcement for the chaos that comes with a shooter inside a busy building.

"We're going to look at every aspect on it [the possibility of making changes in the way they work in the schools] and we're going to improve where we need to and enhance our visibility in the schools and continue to work with teachers and SROs to ensure they do the very best to protect our teachers, students and faculty," said Newton County Sheriff Ezell Brown.

"I think we have seen a worldwide increase in this type of violence, not only just schools, in all locations. It's one of the things we have to be vigilant and be aware that it could happen in most any place," Brown said.

"I never imagined someone would have that bent of mind to take the life of young innocent individuals. This is law enforcement's worst nightmare for something like this to happen in one of our schools."

In a previous story Morrison said that SROs are trained to know what to do in dangerous situations, adding that the
training situations are "very stressful" so that law enforcement knows how to react if something does occur.

"You learn to how to assess things in a split second and how to react in a situation like that," she said.
Morrison said that SROs are also familiar with who typically comes in and out of the middle and high schools in the county (where there is at least one SRO at all times), and if a visitor comes into the school and does not check in at the office he is retrieved by the SRO before he can get very far into the school.

"For us, these policies have always been in place. Of course, anytime you have a situation like this come up, we always review our policies and procedures," Morrison said.

"You never want it to happen anywhere, but we have to be prepared in case it does happen.

"Anytime you have violence against children, it's going to be shocking because as a human being you don't want to believe that someone would hurt children. But is it a shock as to where we are in the world that someone acts like this? No."

 

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