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Training to Protect our Schools and Businesses

Last updated on January 22, 2020

This article was edited to correct the title of a job position.

In October, the Chronicle ran a short story on the Dane County Sheriff’s “active shooter training” at the Top of Lodi (formerly the Lodi Primary School).  In December, we were invited back to walk along on the training and get more information–and photos.

Things Have Changed Since Columbine

On December 18th, Elise Schaffer, Public Information and Education Officer for the Dane County Sheriff’s Office met with the Chronicle at the Top of Lodi and spoke with us about the on-going training taking place.   The “Active Shooter Training” is the last of 4 in-service training sessions that all members of the Dane County Sheriff Department are required to attend.  Both Schaffer and Tactical Team trainer Mike Mohr, emphasized that last part.  Every member of the department was required to go through this training–from patrol officers, to those guarding the jails to administrative officers with “desk jobs”.  As Schaffer states: “You never know which officer is gong to be driving by when a call comes in.”

Mohr, his fellow trainer Chad Lauritsen, and–in a later interview–Max Jenatscheck of the Columbia County Sheriff’s Department all reiterated one point:  “Things have changed since Columbine.”  This refers to the 1999 Columbine High School Massacre in which students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and one teacher, and injured another 24, before committing suicide.  It was, at the time, the deadliest school shooting in US history.

After the fact, law enforcement was criticized for not doing more to intervene in the shooting.  The standard policy at the time was to secure the area and wait for specialized officers1These units were previously known as a Special Weapons And Tactics Team (SWAT Team), but go by other names such as Police Tactical Unit (PTU) or Tactical Team (TAC Team). to arrive.  The officers at Columbine were doing what they were trained to do–what was thought to be the best way to respond.

The aftermath of the Columbine incident not only changed the way that the country looked at potential threats in our schools, it changed the way that law enforcement approached such situations.  Those changes came in steps, and are still evolving.

Stop the Killing

After the Columbine shootings, law enforcement changed their approach.  The standard policy shifted from “wait for the TAC team” to “wait for enough backup and go in together”.  The definition of “enough backup” then evolved from “a team of 4” to “one other officer”.  The standard policy now is for the first officer on the scene to enter the building and attempt to eliminate the threat. The failure of both the School Resource Officer (SRO) and the Broward County deputies to do this was a significant criticism in the wake of the shootings at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Sgt. Jenatscheck put it in succinct terms:  “First, stop the killing.  Then stop the bleeding”.

This directive was the focus of the training happening on the ground floor of the old primary school.  Officer Mike Mohr–wearing protective padding and a helmet2Which, we found out, was not fool-proof.  A “lucky” shot by one of the officers struck Mohr in a vulnerable spot between two sections of protection–just behind his ear. Though the “bullets” are tiny plastic bits filled with paint, they are traveling at over 600 feet per second–about a quarter of the speed of an actual bullet.  Officer Mohr was visibly affected, and commented on the disorientation the strike caused..–took the role of the shooter.  Each trainee entered the building from the doors on Pleasant St., checked rooms as they progressed down the hall, and engaged the shooter (Mohr).

The scenario was designed so that the officer would take down the shooter, so that they could move on to the next phase of the training.  The session that the Chronicle was in place to view, however, took a different turn.  The trainee’s rifle jammed as he entered the classroom and attempted to take out the shooter.  In a real-life situation, that office would have been shot, and possibly killed.

In the training, the 2nd training officer, Pat Kelley (also on the TAC Team), stepped the trainee back and walked him through what to do.  This was not a test, it was a lesson–and every member of the team focused on making sure the officers involved received the information and training they required.

End the Bleeding

This is where reality differs from Hollywood.

After the shooter was taken down, the second thing the officer did (after making sure there was no one else in the room) was to tend to the shooter’s wound. It’s important that the shooter remains alive and gets prompt and proper medical attention.

Sgt. Jenatscheck from the Columbia County Sheriff’s Department, discussed this a bit further during an early-January telephone interview.    Columbia County’s approach involves the same aspects of training, but has to take a different approach.  Dane County has a dedicated training center, and brings all of their officers through that center’s classes, whereas Columbia County hosts smaller training sessions with the various municipalities.  Whenever possible, Columbia County Sheriff’s Department sets up one-day “full scope” training sessions where not only local police, but fire and EMS services are invited to attend.   This is usually spearheaded by the Portage Police Department

Clear the Building

While Officers Mohr and Kelly were teaching deputies how to deal with a shooter on the lower floor, other trainers were walking 3-person teams through the upper floor to “clear the building”.

We were allowed to follow one such team through their training course.  Guided by TAC Team officer Chad Lauritsen, deputies Adam Freeman, Gregory Wagner, and Jan Tetzlaff worked their way through the school, learning not only tactics, but how to work as a team3Editor’s Note: I haven’t been in that school since I was a student.  It was strange to see three officers armed with rifles enter Mrs. Barth’s room–where I sat, so many years ago, as a student.  I can only image what Mrs. Meek would have to say about all the commotion going on in the library.

Because all officers in the Dane County Sheriff’s Department are required to go through this training, those in attendance on any particular day wouldn’t necessarily know each other.  This was an added benefit; in a real situation, the officers on the scene might not only be from different departments, they might be from completely different jurisdictions.

Using a casual–often joking–approach, officer Lauritsen drilled in the basics.  In other situations, however, he asked questions.  Throughout the course Lauritsen would stop the trainees and critique them.  Sometimes it was to say “Good job”. Other times it was to say “That’s wrong, and here’s why”. But the most important times was when he asked “Why did you do it that way?”

His point was that there is no simple, by-the-book, approach to these situations.

Training officer: Chad Lauritsen

Trainees: Adam Freeman, Gregory Wagner, Jan Tezlaff

Footnotes

Footnotes
1 These units were previously known as a Special Weapons And Tactics Team (SWAT Team), but go by other names such as Police Tactical Unit (PTU) or Tactical Team (TAC Team).
2 Which, we found out, was not fool-proof.  A “lucky” shot by one of the officers struck Mohr in a vulnerable spot between two sections of protection–just behind his ear. Though the “bullets” are tiny plastic bits filled with paint, they are traveling at over 600 feet per second–about a quarter of the speed of an actual bullet.  Officer Mohr was visibly affected, and commented on the disorientation the strike caused..
3 Editor’s Note: I haven’t been in that school since I was a student.  It was strange to see three officers armed with rifles enter Mrs. Barth’s room–where I sat, so many years ago, as a student.  I can only image what Mrs. Meek would have to say about all the commotion going on in the library.

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