Shelby Township police begin active-shooter response training

By: Sarah Wojcik | Shelby - Utica News | Published April 1, 2015


SHELBY TOWNHIP — Last weekend at Magahay Elementary School in Sterling Heights, the Shelby Township Police Department began a two-day training program, which will span four weekends, for its officers to learn how to respond to an active-shooter threat.

Police Chief Robert Shelide said there is a national problem with people walking into locations, such as schools or places of employment, and shooting people at random, and he wants to have the department properly trained to deal with such a threat.

Shelide said the model until the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado in 1999 was for police officers to wait for S.W.A.T. teams to get to the scene before going into a location.

“They’d have to get their gear on, and it’d take an hour to two hours for the S.W.A.T. teams to respond. Columbine rendered that model obsolete,” he said. “On that day, kids were shot while law enforcement was outside.”

He said protocol changed to allow officers to go inside together as soon as two or three officers responded, but studies showed that officers were waiting 60-90 seconds for backup.

“(The killers) can do a tremendous amount of damage in that time period,” Shelide said. “In incidents of active killers, it’s usually over in five minutes.”

The active-shooter response training, he said, will teach Shelby police officers to go in alone and neutralize any kind of threat.

“I understand this is contrary to conventional law enforcement thinking, which is to wait for backup, but I’d never give them a command or order I wouldn’t do myself,” Shelide said. “It’s a matter of safety for residents and children.”

The company responsible for the training, Tactical Encounters, has trained more than 160 police agencies in Michigan, according to its website.

Ron Dehne, one the founding members of Tactical Encounters, said he and two fellow members of the Livonia Police Department S.W.A.T. team created the training group in the mid-1990s after a patrol officer was shot rounding a corner by a young burglar.

“The mentality at the time was, ‘We’re S.W.A.T., we get to do what we want, we’re highly trained, we do all the special stuff.’ We threw that mentality out the window,” Dehne said. “We said, ‘We’re shorting our patrol officers by not giving them the skills that they need.’”

Dehne said active-shooter response training begins with classroom instruction, including a history of active shooters, the psychology of active shooters, and police psychology going into an active-shooter situation. Next, he said, the police officers perform isolation drills at different stations without any type of stress added.

In one instance, officers practiced pushing a vehicle with its windshield covered in bulletproof vests while using it as protection to retrieve a fallen officer outside the building.

The second day is when the real test takes place. After a quick refresher, police officers undergo live scenarios to apply what they learned under high-stress conditions.

At Magahay Elementary School on March 29, police officers donned full gear as audio of gunfire, screams of fear and pain, panicked yelling, and alarms played through the school’s hallways.

“We have victims lying down in the hallways, but the contact team’s No. 1 priority at this point is to stop the threat because every second that goes by, there’s more lives being lost, so they have to go past injured victims they can’t help,” Dehne said.

The simulation also included a “bad guy” who fired back at officers. All parties used modified firearms that shot marking cartridges, which Dehne said travel at 335 feet per second and hurt on impact.

After the contact team secured the area, the rescue team went in and began carting out victims, although they had to remain alert and take precautions in case of another shooter.

“Under stress, we know that (humans begin to lose fine motor skills), so we bring the stress level up and make them perform these tasks as best they can under the stress, so that’s the value in reality-based training,” Dehne said.

Deputy Police Chief Mark Coil was among the first 15 officers to receive the training. He said he was glad to learn the newest methods to take down an active killer and that being able to act out the procedure was more beneficial than hearing it.