Police train to take down active shooter threat at school

By: Terry Oparka | C&G Newspapers | Published September 5, 2013

 Police maintain physical contact with one another in an effort to ensure all bases are covered during an exercise at Jefferson Middle School, now closed, in Pontiac Aug. 27.

Police maintain physical contact with one another in an effort to ensure all bases are covered during an exercise at Jefferson Middle School, now closed, in Pontiac Aug. 27.

Photo by Donna Agusti

OAKLAND COUNTY — The scenario was staged, but the potential tragedy remains all too real.

Police in protective gear proceeded down the hallway at Jefferson Middle School, now closed, in the Pontiac School District after hearing “shots fired” in a classroom Aug. 27. As school starts this week for many students in southeast Michigan, parents and police remember the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

A lone gunman, Adam Lanza, 20, killed 26 people in Newtown, Conn., including his mother, in a shooting rampage Dec. 14, 2012, before he turned the gun on himself and committed suicide. His motive remains unclear.

According to data from the FBI, 57 percent of the time, police arrive while a shooting is still underway.

Last week, the Oakland County Law Enforcement Tactical Response Coordinating Group, OakTAC, representing 25 police departments in Oakland County, trained in active shooter protocol at the empty school.

OakTAC was formed in 2009 after Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard hosted a meeting that generated a discussion on the need for a more regional response to large-scale incidents, with the aim of coordinating resources and training to better provide mutual aid for major incidents.

Oakland County law enforcement agencies that comprise OakTAC include the following:

• Beverly Hills Department of Public Safety
• Birmingham Police Department
• Bloomfield Hills Department of Public Safety
• Bloomfield Township Police Department
• Clawson Police Department
• Farmington Public Safety Department
• Farmington Hills Police Department
• Ferndale Police Department
• Franklin-Bingham Farms Police Department
• Hazel Park Police Department
• Madison Heights Police Department
• Oakland Community College Department of Public Safety
• Oakland University Department of Public Safety
• Oakland County Sheriff’s Office
• Rochester Police Department
• Royal Oak Police Department
• Southfield Police Department
• Troy Police Department
• West Bloomfield Police Department

Law enforcement agencies from across Oakland County sent about 700 officers for training with the Michigan State Police in small squad tactics at the Michigan State Fairgrounds in the spring and summer of 2009. OakTAC sought and was awarded a Federal Homeland Security grant for personal protective equipment for 100 officers to respond to civil unrest and two trailers in which to deploy the equipment. In 2011, OakTAC applied for and received another Federal Homeland Security grant to purchase crowd control barricades, two trailers to transport them and funding to cover training costs.

“We hope and pray things like this never happened, but so did Sandy Hook,” Bouchard said.

He explained that he sat down with Newtown law enforcement officials following the tragedy for a “play by play” on what occurred.

“We hope we never have to use this training,” he said.

“We’re all working with less resources,” Bouchard said. “We look for ways to train together.”

He noted that law enforcement agencies are also working to train hundreds of school personnel in security measures.

“The tragic shooting in Newtown, Conn., shocked all of us, but we knew we were on the right track with training,” said Troy Police Chief Gary Mayer, who serves as president of the OakTAC Training Consortium.

“All of us have suffered cutbacks,” Mayer said. “None of us can do this alone.”

Troy police Lt. Tom Gordon explained that the four officers going into the classroom to apprehend the “shooter” during the drill walked down the hallway together, maintaining physical contact with each other at all times.

“By staying together at all times, we know that no assignments are going to be missed,” he said. “Their job is to go in and engage the threat.”

Gordon said that for the past several months, 50 officers across the county take turns attending two OakTAC training classes each week. He noted that feedback from the training program has been good.

“Officers with 20 to 25 years on the job have said that this is the best, most reliable training they’ve ever had,” he said.

OakTAC officers in all jurisdictions are issued the same equipment — ballistic helmets and ballistic vests with flaps for long guns, trauma first aid kits, handcuffs, flashlights, and radios.

“This training is focused on schools, but it can be applied anywhere,” Mayer said.

Theodore Quisenberry, Homeland Security manager for Oakland County, wrote the grants that funded the equipment and training for the program. To date, $383,902 in federal funds has been secured for equipment, training and exercises, such as the active shooter training.

He said that the OakTAC regional tactical response team is a “very, very unique occurrence for agencies that can’t afford to do this themselves.”

“Everybody (across all jurisdictions) knows how to respond,” Mayer said, adding that all law enforcement agencies in Oakland County are on the same radio system. “We want to end these threats as soon as we can,” he said.

So far, more than 400 officers in Oakland County have completed OakTAC training.

“Our goal is to train 1,000 officers in Oakland County in the active shooter protocol,” Mayer said.