Local police gear up for active shooter training

It has been a little more than a month since the deadly shooting rampage at a Martin's in Elkhart.

The horror of that night remains fresh in the minds of many in Michiana, including area police.

That shooting will be talked about when it comes to police training.
Police throughout the country, and here in Michiana, do what they call "active shooter training.”

The importance of that training was never more evident than the night of the Martin's shootings.

Tragically, two innocent people lost their lives.

However, it could have been worse.
On a cold January night, police struggled to answer the question-- why a deranged young man with a gun killed two women at an Elkhart Martin's, but there was one question they had no trouble answering.

Trent Smith, Indiana State Police, says, “We are pretty confident that Elkhart's quick response to the scene most definitely saved lives tonight.”

Two Elkhart police officers responded within three minutes of the initial 911 call, and took out the gunman.

The response perhaps would have been different, say, just 15 years ago.

For police, everything changed after the 1999 Columbine School massacre when two students shot and killed twelve students, one teacher, and wounded 21 others before the gunmen took their own lives.

The mistake at Columbine has, by and large, not been repeated by law enforcement.

Trent says, “The old police strategy was simply call in the SWAT team, a specialty team, seal the outside and wait. That obviously upped the ante for loss of life, so we changed our tactics.”

That has meant training for an "active shooter" situation, which South Bend police has been doing in earnest for more than ten years now.

Every sworn officer goes through it.

It is not just South Bend. St. Joe County police held an active shooter training at Penn High School last May.

“You'll get training at least once every two years. But other scenarios that supplement that training are conducted when we're out at the range during most of the year; we're doing some short of shooting drills at the range. So, a lot of the tactics we learn can also be applied to active shooter,” Trent says.

The number of active shooter incidents nationwide grows, so grow the different grisly scenarios.

Thus, the training has evolved.

Trent say, “Ten years ago, we did not have a patrol rifle program to speak of; now, we're changing the weapons we're carrying. When I first got on it was a revolver and you had to check out a shotgun. Now, you've got officers specializing in carbines, etc. So there's different weapons out there the officers are carrying, so we have to vary the tactics based on weapons.”

Given what happened at Martin's, will new tactics be employed in this year's upcoming active shooter training?

Trent says that is something that will likely be discussed.

He says, “The scenario we saw develop in Elkhart is something, that's exactly what we're training for; we're training to go into businesses, into retail establishments, going into schools. It's definitely the exact thing we're training for now.”

Trent says, he believes, that type of training paid off on that awful night last month in Elkhart.

He says, “They did exactly what is expected from police officers in the 21st century which is, upon arrival, you go and try to neutralize the problem, you just don't contain the scene.”

While Trent believes active shooter training is important from a practical standpoint, it may be even more important from a psychological standpoint.

It is re-assurance for an increasingly wary and insecure public.

Trent says, “I think it's really important. I think it helps put the public at ease and also, if anybody is considering doing something awful like that, they ought to know we're going to be there and we're going to make entry and we're going to get them immediately. We're not going to sit back and play games with them and they're going to be in control, we are.”

Trent says officers typically train several days for active shooter situations.

It is usually conducted at an abandoned building with lots of rooms and hallways to best simulate real life conditions.

The South Bend Police Department must have a couple hundred sworn officers.

Trent says they will train about half the force one year and the other half the following year.

That is why he said everyone goes through it every two years.

As he also said, they do stuff out at the range on a regular basis to keep their skills sharp.

They are serious when it comes to active shooter training.

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