October 22, 2014

Medina
Cloudy
45°F

Law enforcement simulates school shooting scenario

Two agents with the Medina County Drug Task Force climb the stairs, weapons drawn, during an “active shooter” training exercise at Medina High School on Tuesday. Because of their status as task force agents, they asked to remain anonymous. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY DAN POMPILI)

Police officers in full body armor walked the halls of Medina High School on Tuesday, searching for a man with a gun.

The man wasn’t an intruder. He was another police officer, dressed in a costume.

Welcome to the second day of a realistic program designed to train police officers to respond to “active shooter” in a school.

Prompted by tragedies such as December’s fatal shootings of 20 children and six staff members at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., the program will go on all week and train 20 to 25 officers a day from departments across the county.

Two agents with the Medina County Drug Task Force, secure a hallway, weapons drawn.­ (GAZETTE PHOTO BY DAN POMPILI)

Members of the Ohio Highway Patrol’s Special Response Team traveled from Columbus to serve as instructors. They received their training from the U.S. military more than a year ago.

Medina Police Chief Patrick Berarducci said the program provides police officers from different departments a chance to work together and learn the same procedures.

“We’re trying to create a common baseline for tactical response and emergency medical care,” Berarducci said. “These officers might not work together any other time; but if they’re told to go in there and get a shooter, they all have the same approach.”

Officers practiced single-officer response, two-man team response, and hostage response and wounded victim emergency triage, all while learning the layout of the high school should they ever need to respond to such an emergency.

Participating in this week’s training are officers from Medina city and township, Montville, Wadsworth and Brunswick police departments, Medina County Sheriff’s Office, Medina County Drug Task Force and the Medina post of the patrol.

Berarducci said the officers, many of whom have children in school, are taking the training seriously.

“I’ve been in a lot of training exercises in my 39 years,” he said, “but this has gotten to the officers in a way I’ve never seen.”

Montville Township police Sgt. Chris LaFond tends to the simulated chest and arterial leg wounds of Sara Coulter, a part-time Medina police records clerk, while an Ohio Highway Patrol training officer looks on. LaFond and Coulter participated in an “active shooter” training exercise at Medina High School on Tuesday. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY DAN POMPILI)

Berarducci said police officers across the country have learned from mass shootings since teenagers Dylan Clebold and Eric Harris killed 15 and injured 21 at Columbine High School in Colorado on April 20, 1999, and the shootings in Aurora, Colo., at Chardon High School in Geauga County and in Newtown.

The result has been new tactics, including allowing a single officer to respond to a shooting rather than waiting for more officers.

The old tactics were plagued by “built-in delays,” such as waiting for SWAT teams to arrive and suit up, or holding back from entering a building until ordered by a commanding officer.

Berarducci said the first officer to respond may be able to stop a shooter or at least minimize damage.

“Single officer response is the least preferred method,” Berarducci said. “There is a very high incidence of injury when one officer responds by himself, but it’s a risk we have to take.”

Officers who arrive after the initial responder would work in teams of two.

In the training session at Medina High, members of the police alumni association and non-uniform employees of the departments played victims and hostages.

Both police and shooters used handguns that fired “Simunition,” — bullets tipped with ink-filled rubber capsules that allow them to see where they hit. The bullet left only small bruises on the skin.

In addition to tactical training, police received emergency medical equipment, including tourniquets and bandages to treat arterial wounds or “sucking chest wounds.”

A sucking chest wound is one that permits air to fill the chest cavity and compress the lungs, causing the victim to suffocate. Arterial wounds can cause a shooting victim to bleed to death in three to four minutes.

Berarducci said in the past officers have been trained to bypass the victims and go straight to the shooter.

“The problem is that nobody was coming in behind the police and victims were bleeding out,” he said.

While patrol instructors still train officers to eliminate the shooter first, they showed them that immediate first aid often can preserve a victim’s life long enough for advanced emergency medical personnel to respond and save lives.

All cruisers are now equipped with medical bags containing enough supplies to treat six victims. They also carry rifles with 30-round clips and “level 4” body armor that can withstand ammunition fired from the high-powered, high-capacity rifles used in some past school shootings.

Contact reporter Dan Pompili at (330) 721-4012 or dpompili@medina-gazette.com.