The reality is that at any moment any person can hold any number of victims inside public facilities hostage, or worse, could even harm or kill any number of those victims.
One needs to remember that these situations haven't just taken place in California or Columbine High School in Colorado. Just several miles down the road from Saline County, two young boys shot several children on the grounds of the Westside Middle School in Jonesboro on March 24, 1998. Four children and one adult lost their lives on that day.
But local law enforcement agencies, such as officers with the Benton Police Department, annually participate in the Active Shooter program to find ways to best respond to those unfortunate situations. Though the program was originally designed years ago to simulate a worst-case scenario of a person or persons terrorizing schools, the program has added numerous scenarios throughout the years.
This year, officers spent two Saturdays of Active Shooter training at the Saline County Courthouse and the Benton Junior High School. They will hold another training on July 21, at an undisclosed location.
"This training is beneficial for everyone because God forbid any actual scenario we are training for actually takes place in Benton or other areas of Saline County, whether it be at a school, courthouse or business, but it can happen," Lt. Kevin Russell of the Benton Police Department said. "But officers will be prepared to handle the situation in the most efficient way to minimize loss of life, not just for civilians but for officers as well."
Benton Lt. Monte Hodge added, "It's going to help (officers) become familiar with school and other public facilities, and also learn the importance of a quick response to a situation so that it can be resolved quickly without loss of life. With the several agencies participating in the training, it will benefit the public knowing that the other agencies can respond with us and know our tactics."
Russell said through the years, the Active Shooter training has also been held in vacant houses or buildings, including the "old state hospital."
According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, "An active shooter is an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area; in most cases, active shooters use firearms and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims. Active shooter situations are unpredictable and evolve quickly. Typically, the immediate deployment of law enforcement is required to stop the shooting and mitigate harm to victims. Because active shooter situations are often over within 10 to 15 minutes, before law enforcement arrives on the scene, individuals must be prepared both mentally and physically to deal with an active shooter situation."
Armed with handguns and military-style rifles converted to use semi-ammunition rounds that contain a paint tip with a detergent type of mixture, and donned with protective head, neck and chest gear, officers recreated hostile situations. Paired in teams of two to five people, the officers learned how to communicate with each other and listened for other officers in various classrooms while simulating a hostage situation.
The scenarios are unfortunate real-life situations that have taken place in other areas and the trainers — officers Chris Runnells, Joey Bedsole, Chuck Jackson and Sgt. Justin Tittle, Detective Brett Carpenter — stay close to the officers as they carefully climb stairs, check in classrooms or offices, or any other area that an "Active Shooter" might be present. Officers in training first search the hallways in search of the perpetrator as they check and clear classrooms in a speedy, but protective manner. The end result is finding the perpetrator and reacting in the correct manner.
Once the scenario is through, the trainers continue to teach the officers about the situation and how to better react.
"Officers learn different techniques and procedures with a wide variety of violent situations they might encounter someday," Russell said. "The officers trained with this program when they went through a police academy, but we build on that here. We expand it each year and hope that we not only keep these scenarios fresh in the minds of the officers, but also by conducting this training, we will be able to properly respond should something happen in Benton."
At the other end of the spectrum, various officers play the role of the "active shooter" and others portray victims. A scenario of a victim running from a classroom yelling "help" and "don't shoot" is also played out in the program. Because officers do not immediately know if the victim is actually an "active shooter" portraying a victim, the person is told to lie on the ground with arms facing forward to ensure officer safety.
Valerie Boyette played the scenario of a victim running and screaming through the hallways of the Benton Junior High School. She also played a hostage and even a dead person lying in a stairwell and hallway.
"It was really intense," Boyette said.
That is just one of the numerous scenarios included in the training.
"I have been a part of this training every year, including a Homeland Security class in Oklahoma, and you learn something new every time," Hodge said. "Each class offers something different, but the basic teachings of learning how to communicate with partners and how to deal with distractions always remains."
Officer Jason Moore added, "As far as the Active Shooter program, you have to learn how to also trust your team and once you do, they will help you anyway you can. They will be there if I need them and vice-versa. The trainers will get on to you, but they also make sure you understand why or what you did incorrectly. It is constructive criticism, and they will sit down and talk to you. They teach you how to correct a mistake or to find a better way or technique to use."
Hodge said also said thanked the staff of the Saline County Courthouse.
"Working with courthouse security, they have a vast knowledge of the courthouses and they have already shown us many things that we weren't aware of from their procedures and other things," he said. "People on jury duty, or someone doing paper work or for any reason they are at a courthouse, if anything bad happens, which there have been bad things happen in the past in other jurisdictions, we are preparing to eliminate that threat before it can get out of hand. Same thing at the schools."