When Columbus police Sgt. Brian Jenkins first became a law enforcement officer in 2006, one of the first courses he took was how to respond in an active shooter situation.
Since then, the way officers have been trained to respond has changed, especially after major mass shooting events have alerted law enforcement to tactics that no longer work, he said.
Jenkins became certified as a Level 1 instructor in active shooter response. The training was paid for by Mississippi Department of Homeland Security, said CPD Chief Fred Shelton.
“He is a trained trainer, so he can come back and train our department and other departments,” he said.
In 2006, Jenkins said, he was taught to wait until four officers were on the scene before going after the shooter — a change that had been in place since 1999 when officers, waiting for a SWAT team, entered Columbine High School 45 minutes after two shooters began attacking students and teachers. Officers had been told since the 1960s to wait on SWAT teams before attempting to neutralize mass shooters.
Now, Jenkins said, instructors teach a solo approach, meaning if the first officer on scene can pinpoint where the threat is coming from, he or she should go after it.
“We’re going in and we’re stopping the bad guy,” Jenkins said.
‘Stop the killing, stop the dying’
Jenkins, who has previously taught active shooter response for civilians and has taught hand-to-hand combat courses for officers, will serve as an instructor at eight active shooter training events for officers throughout the state through July, including a course at the police academy in Moorhead and another in Starkville next month, which is hosted by the Mississippi Department of Public Safety and in which area law enforcement will participate.
Starkville Police Department has six officers certified to train other officers in active shooter response, said SPD Chief Mark Ballard, but participating in the upcoming training will allow them to work with other law enforcement agencies — something that would be extremely important in an actual active shooter event, when responders have to work quickly and communicate effectively at chaotic scenes.
“What the training does is teach all departments common movements, common tactics,” he said.
One thing instructors must emphasize for officers is where their priorities should be.
“When your first responders show up, their goal is to stop the shooter,” Ballard said.
That’s sometimes hard for new officers to swallow, said Jenkins, because in many cases they’re tempted to aid the injured and dying before they’ve located the attacker. However, once the shooter has been taken into custody or otherwise neutralized, officers’ new priority is to aid the injured. Part of the two-day course Jenkins teaches involves training officers to provide first aid such like triages or tourniquets.
“Stop the killing, stop the dying,” he said.
Instructors emphasize communication, especially as more agencies arrive at an active scene.
“If I go in one side of a building and neutralize a threat, there could be another officer coming through that sees me with a gun in my hand and not recognize the uniform and there could be blue-on-blue incident where one officer has shot another officer, and that’s what we don’t want,” he said.
Columbus Fire and Rescue is particularly good at setting up incident command, said Jenkins, which helps with communication and coordination at large events with lots of injuries. He and Ballard both said officers have to learn to communicate with those commands and other responders quickly and effectively.
“Time matters,” Ballard said. “The faster the response, the more effective the response.”
Other things to emphasize are to avoid a “herd mentality” — if the next officers to arrive parks right behind the first officers, Jenkins said, then how is an ambulance going to get as close as it needs to? — and reminding officers that just because someone is uncooperative does not mean they’re a threat. The civilians in the shooting are often in shock and are always scared and confused.
It’s especially important for officers to be careful how they communicate with children in these situations, Jenkins said. Officers can’t yell at small children when the last armed man who yelled at them was trying to shoot them or shot their friends.
“These are things that we have to think of as officers,” he said.
Jenkins said it’s “always interesting” to see how officers handle the reality-based simulation, involving a pretend offender and often pretend victims, so they can try their hands at what they just learned.
“(Officers think), ‘OK, yeah, I know that I’m going,’ but … when the adrenaline gets to going and things like that, a lot of times we have to slow them down,” he said. “‘OK, now what do you need?’ Make them start thinking (that) they’re not just going after the bad guy.”
Jenkins said while he hopes the officers never have to use the training in an actual active shooter situation, the tactics are still helpful for anyone on an everyday patrol. But it also allows them to make mistakes in a simulation and training scenario, rather than a real situation.
“When you can move confidently into a situation, you’re more effective,” Ballard said. “When lives are at stake, there’s nothing more important.”
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