Calif. city's SWAT rethinks active shooter tactics

"We respond actively and aggressively."

By Jason Pesick
The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

RIALTO, Calif. SWAT teams in the region spent Monday at Carter High School in Rialto, but they weren't responding to an emergency.

They were preparing for one.

"This training is probably top-notch," said Sgt. Sam Sarmiento with the Cal State San Bernardino police.

Sarmiento attended the training, along with officers from San Bernardino, Banning, Ontario, Fontana, Redlands, Colton, Patton State Hospital and dispatchers from around the state. About 230 officers and tactical dispatchers were at the course, which was taught by members of Rialto's SWAT team.

Following school tragedies like the Columbine High School massacre in 1999 and the rampage at Virginia Tech this year, officers need to constantly train for similar situations, police officials said.

"The old tactics would be to respond, evaluate, contain," said Rialto Sgt. Jim Kurkoske, Rialto's SWAT commander. After Columbine, police learned that even though it is more dangerous for them, they need to immediately go after the shooter, he said.

"We respond actively and aggressively."

The day started with lectures explaining how to handle different situations. Rialto police Sgt. Nicholas Borchard showed a gripping video of the Columbine shootings that shook even experienced SWAT officers. It showed the shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, chasing students, killing them with the ease someone might bring to shooting characters in a video game, and then killing themselves.

After the presentation, the officers broke into groups to practice the basic skills needed to go after an on-campus shooter by entering classrooms and protecting themselves.

Then after lunch, the officers and dispatchers practiced with police Explorers playing shooters and wounded students with fake wounds and blood. The scenarios even included the sound of gunfire and screaming actors.

Monday's training was the first large-scale training conducted by the Rialto Police Department in some time.

Edwin Ramirez, 14, is an Explorer who played a shooter and carried a gun with blanks in it. He said he "killed" one person and "wounded" another during his scenario before the police were able to respond.

After another exercise, the participants gathered to talk about what they learned and how to handle certain difficult situations.

Sarmiento, the Cal State San Bernardino officer, said during the scenario he could visualize being at the university. He said he likes to go to training sessions frequently to be prepared.

After that scenario, which included two "shooters," one of whom police had trouble shooting, Rialto police Detective John Partida encouraged the officers to make decisions quickly.

"Someone has to take charge," Partida said.

Contact writer Jason Pesick at (909) 386-3861 or via e-mail at jason.pesick@sbsun.com .

Copyright 2007 Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

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