Officers learn to act, not wait in hostage crises
[Charleston, SC]

Tom Searls
January 31, 2001, Wednesday
Copyright 2001 Charleston Newspapers
The Charleston Gazette
January 31, 2001, Wednesday

(CHARLESTON, S.C.) -- Patrol officers, the first police to respond to any hostage or violent incident, are learning a new philosophy: Go inside the building and try to save lives rather than place a security perimeter around the building and wait for backup.

On Tuesday, Charleston police continued training their own and other officers in the Rapid Action Deployment system that police have moved toward since the Columbine (Colo.) High School killings in 1999.

"More and more, we're training people to do the same thing together," said Charleston Police Sgt. Steve Neddo, who led the seminar, which was held at the former Roosevelt Junior High School. "More and more, we're finding we're more effective as a team."

Most Charleston officers have received the training, along with a number of State Police troopers and officers from the cities of Nitro, St. Albans, Dunbar and South Charleston, as well as deputy sheriffs from Putnam, Marshall and Raleigh counties, according to Charleston Police Maj. Pat Epperhart.

"We've kept classes relatively small because you're going to have a small response group," Epperhart said.

Unlike the old SWAT team scenario, where first-response officers surrounded a building and awaited the arrival of specialists, RAD advocates that the initial officer on the scene take command and decide whether to enter a building.

Neddo told those attending Tuesday's seminar that it was three hours before SWAT officers entered Columbine High, allowing a teacher to bleed to death and other people to be wounded and killed.

Under the RAD philosophy, responding officers must enter a building "if crimes against persons are being committed when officers are at the scene." Officers can't wait for a SWAT team to arrive.

"I can't get a SWAT team to a school," Neddo said. "Not in under an hour."

An hour could very well be too late.

The sergeant pointed out that a school hostage situation or a similar incident at a workplace would probably occur during the day, when few officers are actually working in patrols. That's why standardized training can help officers from a variety of jurisdictions to work together.

"In any type of crisis, we're going to revert to our training," Neddo told the group of six officers at Roosevelt on Tuesday. "We're not going to become supermen."

Neddo advocates diamond formations of at least four officers to search hallways and classrooms. Roosevelt, which was closed last year and is scheduled to become police headquarters, has worked well for that type of training, Epperhart said.

Charleston officers have been offering the training after several attended a training school. "It's nothing we invented, just something we're willing to share," Epperhart said. "The goal is to get everybody to do the same thing."

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