SPANISH FORT — Helmeted police in full body armor moved through school halls looking for a heavily armed — but imagined —gunman who had entered Rockwell Elementary School.The …
SPANISH FORT — Helmeted police in full body armor moved through school halls looking for a heavily armed — but imagined —gunman who had entered Rockwell Elementary School.
The activity was part of a drill that took place for two days after the end of the school year to train Spanish Fort police to deal with situations like the incident at Uvalde, Texas, Spanish Fort Police Chief John Barber said.
At Uvalde, a gunman entered Robb Elementary School and killed 19 children and two teachers and injured 17 others May 24.
Barber said Spanish Fort officers need to be ready to deal with a similar situation.
"I've looked at the open reporting on the incident and the response and I certainly don't have all the facts," Barber said. "I don't want to pass judgment on the officers and the on-scene commanders, but it certainly raised some issues, make sure that we are following the most contemporary methods and tactics, so I wanted to go ahead and conduct training."
Police and the officers portraying the gunmen in the drills were all armed with simulation weapons that are replicas of police Glock pistols and assault rifles, but that fired a high-velocity paintball.
"When you're hit, there's pain and you're also marked, so you know," Barber said. "It adds a whole different level of stress and realism when you have a bad guy that's firing back. It doesn't sound like it, but it does. It adds a lot of stress. So, when our officers are hit, they know had that been a real situation they would have taken real rounds. So, it's very eye opening when we use that kind of training tool."
Training took place over two days to allow officers from all shifts to take part. One lesson from Uvalde was that police are often going to have to respond as soon as possible with the resources that are available.
"You cannot necessarily wait for somebody to respond, like a tactical team, because as we saw in Texas, when you wait, lives are lost," Barber said.
Police might have to respond to different situations in a school shooting depending on whether the officers are dispatched to the scene when a gunman is inside or if a school resource officer, or SRO, is the only officer inside the building when a shooting begins.
"We were looking at different responses," Barber said. "If you're a patrol officer, most likely you would be responding while he was already on the inside and you're coming from the outside in and we also did training with our SROs where they're inside and he's inside too. It's a little bit different response, especially when your SRO is usually just one coming to deal with possibly one-on-one shootings and then if you have a patrol response, you hope that there's two officers going in there."
If a gunman gets inside the school with students, officers will have to go in and find the assailant.
"Uvalde raised some additional questions about what if he's on the inside of that classroom," Barber said. "Now, you've got to breech, and so can you breech, and can you do it effectively with your officers?"
The SRO inside the building when shooting starts might be armed with a 9 mm pistol and outgunned by an intruder.
Barber said the AR-15 used by the gunman in Uvalde fires the same high-velocity .223-caliber bullet used by the U.S. military.
"I believe that he was firing at the officers as they were trying to breech," Barber said. "A couple of things with that is that the .223 round is going to penetrate walls mostly, unless it's cinder block and then it's going to penetrate most body armor unless you have the right body armor and then he was on a locked door on the other side, so how do you breech that without taking rounds and get in quickly?"
Barber said he has heard from parents and community members who are worried about the safety of children.
"I know parents are more than concerned. They're upset with what happened in Texas," Barber said. "All parents want to know when they drop off their child that they're going to be safe and they're going to get an education and they're going to pick them up at 3 o'clock in the afternoon. Nobody wants to think about the unthinkable."
He said police need to be prepared if the unthinkable does happen.
"That's why I want to be prepared for what we hope never happens and that we make an immediate response and definitely try to minimize the damage that happens," Barber said.