Local News

March 8, 2014

No hesitation

Local law officers train to take out shooters

“Bypass injured victims.”

“Use aggressive action to intimidate and overwhelm.”

“If shooting is justified, deadly force is justified.”

Those are just a few of the maxims from a Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency textbook that area law enforcement officers reviewed last week as part of a three-day training session at Dalton State College. The idea was to learn and practice techniques for addressing scenarios involving what are called “active shooters.”

The training was provided at no cost to Dalton State or the officers who attended. The average time for an active shooter situation — think Aurora, Colo., Columbine, Sandy Hook and so on — is nine minutes, said Tom Collis, one of the individuals who helped put on the class.

Officials said such a situation typically begins with a single shooter bent on taking out as many people as he can, and it typically ends with that shooter either committing suicide or with “suicide by cop” as the shooter takes actions that force responding law officers to defend themselves or other potential victims.

Dalton State training coordinator Elicia Walker said officers from the college, Dalton Police Department, Calhoun Police Department, Varnell Police Department and Albany State University Police Department participated in the training. They will go back to their agencies and train other officers there.

Walker said that while Dalton State has never had a shooting on campus that she knows about, officers want to be prepared. The 24 hours of training involved class time and discussing various scenarios. It also included sessions in which officers suited up in protective gear while both they and a mock active shooter armed with guns that used soft bullets battled for who would be the victor inside a closed-off section of a building that once housed technical classes.

“It’s very, very helpful,” said Dalton State Police Sgt. Michael Gravitt after successfully going through one of the scenarios. “It builds your confidence level that you can go in and handle a situation without being intimidated by gunfire.”

Officer Scott Swilley of Varnell said that while he’s had similar training before, this session helped reinforce and sharpen his skills. Varnell police cover or provide backup for several local schools, including Varnell Elementary, Coahulla Creek High, Northwest Whitfield High and North Whitfield Middle schools.

Swilley said that if officers ever have to respond to a school shooting — or a similar situation at another location — they’ll be trained to go straight for the threat. They don’t stop to help injured victims because during that time the shooter could continue to take out others. They don’t negotiate. They don’t hesitate. They don’t necessarily even wait for backup as studies show waiting can mean more injured victims.

“We go in hot, we go in heavy, we go in fast,” Swilley said.

Andrew Hiltbrand, a Dalton State engineering student and student worker at the police department, said he learned through his mock role as one of the assailants that he’d get shot quickly if he decided to turn his gun on one of the officers.

Walker said the training — not only for Dalton State Police but for surrounding agencies who might be called in for backup in such a scenario — is valuable for everyone.

Walker also teaches periodic self-defense classes for faculty, staff and students. She said she introduces a variety of maneuvers from aggressively fighting back to trying to hide or escape so potential victims can use different measures depending on the situation.

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