Are we ready?
Yes and no. Yes, in general terms. No, when you get to specifics.
Why? Because as Oneonta Police Chief James Chapman explains, every active shooter situation is so different, has so many aspects and details that are unique to that incident, that it’s not possible to be prepared in detail for any imaginable scenario. You have to be as prepared as possible with training, equipment, personnel, and knowledge of the local area you serve, and be prepared to improvise an effective response as each deadly incident unfolds.
“Training is the big thing,” Chapman said.“We do a lot of training. More than most departments around. I don’t mean just those departments within a few miles. I mean departments as far away as Albertville, Cullman, Gadsden – basically this area of North Alabama.”
Chapman said that each regular police officer is required to have 12 continuing education units each year – the equivalent of three day-long courses. Ranking officers, including himself, are required to have 20 hours – five such courses each year.
To illustrate, Chapman accessed the computerized record of an average officer in the department. The record showed approximately 12 courses over the last two years covering such course content as active shooter training (3 courses) domestic terrorism,“ run/hide/fight” courses (also taught by local officers in the community), homemade explosives, and other subjects. Ranking officers, numbering about 10, also attend Emergency Management Agency training on critical staging of response activities and command post organization, operation, and takedown.
On firepower: Chapman said that police officers are required to qualify on firearms once a year. Oneonta police officers may qualify as many as five times each year, he said. In addition, he said, 8 to 10 officers are certified as SWAT officers, and there are two certified snipers on the force.
Chapman explained that each year the department is evaluated by an officer who provides liaison between the department’s insurance carrier and the League of Municipalities.
“This year,” he said, “our insurance report had zero recommendations on things we need to change or add to what we’re doing. The officer said it’s one of the first he’s ever had with no recommendations.” Basically, the report indicates the department’s full readiness to carry out its mission, Chapman said.
“They train you to be prepared for people who intend to do harm to others, who have no conventional sense of right and wrong, and who intend to harm not only innocent people in the first place, but to harm the responders who come to help them – police, fire, and medical personnel – by hiding secondary explosives in or around the scene, sometimes booby-trapped bombs, to kill or injure the responders.”
Another aspect of readiness is having the equipment necessary to do the job required. Chapman briefly reviewed the equipment available. One major piece is the wheeled, armored personnel carrier that allows law enforcement to get close to an active shooter scene safely in order to subdue the shooter and/or rescue hostages while providing protection against gunfire. Other types of equipment include rifles, shotguns, ballistic (“bullet proof”) helmets and vests, bulletproof shields, and bulletproof blankets (used to shroud hostages being removed from an active shooter scene, or to drape over vehicle windows to prevent bullets from penetrating a passenger compartment).
One other way to be as prepared as possible is to anticipate where active shooter attacks are likely to occur. Public buildings and schools are likely locations, Chapman said, and accordingly, the department has available floor plan diagrams of these likely targets, or in the case of schools, the School Resource Officer is intimately familiar with the buildings in his assigned area.
The Blount County Sheriff’s Department mirrors the Oneonta Police Department in the type of training and equipment to be arrayed against active shooters. The difference is that, due to budget considerations, neither training nor equipment is as extensive as in the city police force. According to Blount County Sheriff’s Department Operations Officer Tim Kent, the department has applied through the 1033 federal program (military surplus) for an armored personnel carrier and for additional bulletproof vests and helmets. Kent said he hopes to receive all the equipment requested.
“Every deputy here has had Phase I of active shooter training, and we’re going to begin Phase II this coming summer,” Kent said.“As to their arms, most deputies have AR 15’s (semi-automatic military rifles) and shotguns. We have several officers that have had SWAT training and some that have been members of SWAT teams. We also have two deputies that have served as snipers. We can tap into departments in the surrounding area – and have – when we need specialized units like a SWAT team or bomb squad,” he said.
Kent said sheriff’s deputies have prevented several incidents involving active or threatening situations at the schools, but has not publicized them for fear of triggering copycat situations.