11/14/2007

Calif. university police prepare for active shooter situations

By Barbara Arrigoni
The Chico Enterprise-Record

WILLOWS, Calif. With weapons drawn and ready, teams of active-duty law enforcement officers crept along the outer perimeter and quiet halls of Glenn Medical Center Tuesday morning, searching for a man posing as a gunman on the move.

The gunman was actually Chico State University Police officer Mark Snelgrove, dressed in a hooded sweatshirt and mask, enacting various scenarios local officers and deputies could encounter in a real-life threat.

The action at the hospital was just a portion of two days-worth of "active shooter-rapid response" training that Sheriff Larry Jones said was designed to get all county law enforcement agencies "on the same operational page tactically, and to be ready to meet any challenge that might happen."

The specific aim was to be ready for a situation like the one Sept. 28 where a student allegedly took a gun to Las Plumas High School in Oroville and held several students hostage. It could also occur at a restaurant, hospital, factory or any place large groups of people would be, Jones said.

The agency-wide training has been brewing for months. Willows Police Chief William Spears, also a participant, said it was one of the first things he wanted to do after taking the job last December.

Talks with Jones, Orland Police Chief Bob Pasero and others began, but it was a real-life scare last April that got it rolling.

On April 19, a massive manhunt took place for a Yuba City man threatening a school massacre. The man was reportedly heading north. After that, Jones promised all the school administrators he would get the program started.

Since then, he has met with Glenn officials, Butte College and law enforcement officials from other counties.

The training finally began Monday at Glenn County Office of Education. The sheriff, Spears and Probation Chief Brandon Thompson joined 22 other officers from the California Highway Patrol, Willows and Orland Police, and the Probation Office for eight hours of in-depth classroom work.

Butte College instructor Ken Klassen led the training, who's spent four years researching active-shooter situations, said the purpose of the class was to show officers the psychological mindset of an active shooter, the effect of a situation on officers and how to quickly deal with a situation.

"The quicker you deal with them, the more lives you save," Klassen said.

Klassen defined an active shooter as "someone who has no regard for the life of others. He is going forward in shooting, killing innocent victims, for no apparent reason and usually connected to some triggering event in their life."

The training had different effects on the players involved. Thompson said it was valuable for probation officers because with limited resources in the county, probation would probably respond to an incident with the Sheriff's Office and police.

"The advantage is that we're all on the same page and know what the other agencies have been trained in," Thompson said. Lt. Phil Revolinsky compared participating in the drill to driving a car: "The more you practice, the more proficient you become at it, and more successful."

Revolinsky said he gained new knowledge and insight into what to do as the operations commander if he meets a real-life situation, and had a multitude of thoughts during the drill, such as "How am I going to keep my team and self alive?"

"We were constantly looking for cover, scanning for the bad guy, not knowing where he would be, and how to engage him," he said.

After the session at Glenn Medical Center, the officers critiqued their performances and later practiced more drills with live ammunition at a firing range near Oroville. Another critique followed that, Jones said late Tuesday.

Jones said there will be some adjustments to future training, but overall it was a positive experience.

"It was a good foundation to improve training," Jones sad. "It can't be anything but beneficial for law enforcement and public safety."

The training will be offered again at the end of the month for Glenn officers unable to participate this week, and may eventually be opened up to agencies in other counties.

Copyright 2007 Chico Enterpris-Record

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