Oakland County police agencies train for an active shooter

By: Terry Oparka, Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | Troy Times | Published September 7, 2016

 Frank Shuler, from the Troy Police Department, participates in media demonstrations of active shooter training.

Frank Shuler, from the Troy Police Department, participates in media demonstrations of active shooter training.

Photo by Deb Jacques

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OAKLAND COUNTY — “Game on.”

Instructors from the Oakland County Law Enforcement Tactical Response Coordinating Group, or OakTac, use those two simple words to initiate a training exercise for incidents involving an active shooter.

Police officers from various Oakland County agencies geared up to prepare for a potential incident Aug. 31 to Sept. 1.

OakTac was established in 2009 after Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard hosted a meeting between local police chiefs on regional responses to large-scale incidents. The group comprises 36 agencies and serves over 96 percent of Oakland County’s population.

Training is held continuously, and members of the media were invited to witness demonstrations at Taft School in Ferndale Aug. 31.

“What we do is we provide coordination and resources for training for law enforcement to make sure we can respond to tactical incidents, active shooter response and civil disturbances,” Troy Police Chief Gary Mayer, who is president of OakTac, said during a press conference held before the demonstrations.

“We’re very proud of this group, and we’re very proud of what we do to protect our children and protect the citizens of Oakland County,” he said.

Since 2009, over 2,000 officers have been trained, and more than 80,000 nonlethal rounds have been fired during the reality-based training sessions. Anywhere from 12 to 20 officers are trained to make formations, navigate stairwells and utilize multiple contact teams, Mayer explained.

OakTac is funded through federal grants to ensure that no one agency is paying for the training sessions. The grants have been used to purchase equipment, to pay for the instructors and for other group necessities.

The goal of the group is that if an active shooter is reported in one community, surrounding agencies can assist because officers are trained the same way.  OakTac is also evolving to bring in fire departments and emergency personnel to train in first aid response, Mayer said.

Lt. Larry Perry, of the Oakland County Sheriff’s Office and vice president of OakTac, said that active shooter situations place a “tremendous strain” on the resources of one local department. Because surrounding agencies are trained in the same tactics, it increases the size of a force.

“If a situation were to evolve,  they would not be overwhelmed by lack of services or manpower,” he said.

Following the press conference, instructors from various local agencies demonstrated some of the training exercises.

“In order to make the training a little more realistic, we have a 1,000-watt speaker, and we play a sound of simulated gunfire through it. … The instructors making the entry will be reacting to those sounds coming in and engaging the threat,” said Troy Lt. Thomas Gordon, who was coordinating the simulations.

West Bloomfield Sgt. Eric Gruenwald has been an instructor for OakTac for three years. He explained that the goal of the group is to ensure that every agency is “on the same page to respond to an active shooter incident.”

“We enter rooms the same way. We go down the halls the same way. We engage … threats the same way,” he said.

But before the students can walk, they need to crawl, Gruenwald explained. During this training session, the senior officer participating had six months of on-the-job experience and was limited in tactical experience, he said.

“What we do is walk through tactics. We walk through the process, and then we ramp up stress. Whether it’s yelling, banging on doors, active gunfire, screaming (or) sirens, we ramp it up, and we make them go to the threat,” Gruenwald said.

Those stresses cause the students to make mistakes, which are then corrected. Through repetition, the officers learn not to make mistakes, he said.

“Under stress you naturally react the way that you’re trained,” Gruenwald said.

The result of the training is that these officers will have the tactical advantage. They’ll know how to react with the other Oakland County responders in the case of an active shooter threat, Gruenwald said.

“The Troy Police Department benefits tremendously from our involvement in OakTac,” Troy police Sgt. Meghan Lehman said via email. “We can share resources and train alongside other local agencies.

“If an active shooter incident were to happen here, we would be responding with our neighboring departments,” she said. “It is critical that we train together and respond in the same manner. Troy officers are well-prepared, due to our involvement in OakTac, to address any type of situation that may occur in Troy. Regular training with our partner agencies helps ensure ongoing preparedness.”

Staff Writer Terry Oparka contributed to this report.

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