By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — What would you do if someone walked into the store where you are shopping — or entered your church — or came into your place of business — and started shooting?
Dunn County Sheriff Dennis Smith and Barron County Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald discussed active shooter training on The West Side public radio show on 88.3 WHWC on Monday, February 26, with host Rich Kremer.
[emember_protected] Since the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, debate has intensified over assault rifles and tighter background checks, Kremer noted.
Kremer attended an active shooter training at the Dallas Lutheran Church in Barron County in January and was surprised to learn active shooter training has been taking place in Western Wisconsin for a while.
Active shooter training “is about responding to society,” Sheriff Fitzgerald said.
Law enforcement cannot solve the problems that make someone want to kill as many people as possible, but law enforcement can do training to give someone an opportunity to survive, he said.
“I tell people they are partially responsible for their own safety. You can’t just look the other way and think it’s never going to happen,” Sheriff Smith said.
“We don’t want people to be scared of life, but we want people to be prepared,” he said.
In a rural area, if law enforcement officers are nearby, they might be able to get to the scene in a few minutes, but if they are across the county, it could take 15 minutes or more for deputies to arrive, Sheriff Smith said.
“I use the old story about people driving down the road and a deer jumps out in front of them. If they have never thought about that happening, they are going to go into the ditch and hit an oak tree. They have to think ahead and be prepared, and it’s the mindset of being prepared for whatever comes your way,” he said.
Active shooters do not take hostages, and they do not go after a single target. An active shooter will shoot anyone who is in their way, Sheriff Fitzgerald said.
The mass shooting at Columbine High School in 1999 changed how law enforcement approaches mass shootings, Sheriff Smith said.
During the 1970s, law enforcement officers practiced by standing still and shooting at paper targets. In the 1980s, officers started moving during their weapons training, he said.
From Columbine, “we learned we can’t wait for the cavalry to show up,” Sheriff Smith said.
At the time Columbine occurred, officers were trained to wait for backup and go in as a group. Now the first law enforcement officer on the scene goes in and tries to take out the shooter, he said.
In the past, a facility was locked down, and everyone waited for the SWAT team to show up. This approach resulted in many more casualties at Columbine High School, Sheriff Smith said.
With the current approach, the person is either “neutralized” or is on the defensive instead of the offensive, he said.
The problem started with drive-by shootings in Los Angeles. For drive-by shootings, students were told to get down on the floor so they were protected by the brick exterior of the school, and the front doors would be locked, Sheriff Fitzgerald said.
At Columbine High School, the threat was inside the school, and students were told to hide under their desks, he said.
“We said, ‘you guys hide, and as cops, when we get enough people, we’ll come running through the door,’” Sheriff Fitzgerald said.
But at Columbine High School, students in the library were 58 feet from a door that went outside. For nine or 10 minutes, they stayed in the library, where there was shooting going on, and the students were only 58 feet from a door, he said.
“We never said, ‘run.’ We said, ‘we’ll come and get you,’” Sheriff Fitzgerald said.
Barron County has been offering active shooter training for about two and a half years and so far has conducted 90 training sessions at businesses, churches, factories and schools, Sheriff Fitzgerald said.
Dunn County also started offering training a couple of years ago and will do the training for anyone who asks for it, Sheriff Smith said, noting that 2,000 people have had training in the county, including 1,500 children.
Schools are trained in ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) and have someone on staff who can train other staff members, he said.
Dunn County officers are available any time to do scenarios, Sheriff Smith said.
In the past, business owners were more reluctant to do the active shooter scenarios because they were concerned about the time it would take and having to pay their employees overtime. Now the business owners are coming around to being more concerned about getting the training, he said.
“It’s time to get something (more) going with the public so they have a chance to know what to do to survive,” Sheriff Smith said.
Kremer said about 50 to 70 people had attended the training at the Dallas Lutheran Church and that it had been interesting to hear their reactions.
The reactions to training are generally positive because people are aware there is something they can to do help themselves, Sheriff Smith said.
People can run to escape; they can barricade the door; they can find a way to slow down the shooter until law enforcement arrives by throwing whatever is handy, he said.
If, for example, people barricade the door with everything they can pick up in a room, the shooter is not going to lay down his gun and take many minutes to move objects away from the door to get inside, Sheriff Fitzgerald said.
The extra time obtained from distracting the shooter by barricading doors or throwing a stapler and hitting him in the head, or throwing whatever is handy, could mean the few extra minutes law enforcement needs to get there, both sheriffs said.
Kremer played an excerpt from the active shooter training at Dallas Lutheran Church in which the trainer had asked people what they could do with a fire extinguisher.
The answer is spray the shooter in the face or throw the fire extinguisher at the shooter.
“If you knock someone out, that’s better yet. And if you kill him, points for you,” the trainer said.
During the drill portion of the active shooter training in Dallas, people scattered and ran zigzagging out of the church, Kremer noted.
Another helpful piece of information is to know your surroundings, Sheriff Fitzgerald said.
Find out where the door goes to with the exit sign, he said.
At a training session in a factory, one person said he would run out the back door and into the woods behind the building. The trees, however, were 150 yards away. The perception was, driving up to the front of the building, that the trees were right behind the building, Sheriff Fitzgerald said.
People should look at their surroundings, talk about the topic and think about what they would do if they were at work, church, the mall, a store or in school, he said.
Kremer said it seemed as if “we are training people to live in a war zone.”
“We are not trying to encourage people to be afraid of everything. We are trying to have people be aware of their surroundings,” Sheriff Smith said.
“Know where the door goes,” he said.
When there is an emergency exit, use the emergency exit because that will set off an alarm, and “you want that alarm set off,” Sheriff Smith said.
At one training at a church, the “shooter” walked in, and there were six people sitting next to the shooter who got up and tackled the person, Sheriff Fitzgerald said.
“We have to empower people to react,” he said.
At the Dallas church training, an elderly couple sat in the back. The woman threw her purse, and the gentleman threw a Bible — “he lobbed it,” Kremer said.
Part of ALICE training is to train the students not to just sit there and do nothing, Sheriff Smith said.
Throw a stapler — throw books — and that is when you can tackle, he said.
If one child tries to tackle a shooter, that will not accomplish anything. “But if you have 12 kids jumping on someone, and a couple take the arms and a couple take the legs and one grabs the head, they can take someone down,” Sheriff Smith said.
“It seems like a vicious thing, but it’s got to be done,” he said.
All of the schools in Dunn County have taken positive action. All have locked doors, and most have a vestibule so people must go through two sets of doors to gain entry. The schools all have cameras, and Dunn County officers have key fobs to get into any of the doors at any of the schools. The doors are numbered inside and out so officers have a better chance of getting in the right door, Sheriff Smith said.
“The schools have been very cooperative and pro-active to keep everyone safe,” he said.
Kremer played a clip of President Donald Trump saying “active shooting drills are a negative thing.”
If a child is 10 years old, and someone says active shooter training is necessary because someone may come in and shoot the 10 year old, “that’s a negative thing,” President Trump said in the clip.
“I disagree,” Sheriff Fitzgerald said.
If someone is in a classroom with a weapon, that person is not there to have a discussion, he said.
The students and the teachers need to react by barricading the classroom door and being prepared to throw whatever they can, Sheriff Fitzgerald said.
One teacher in another state had prepared her students by making sure each of them had a can of soup in their desks, he said.
You can imagine that 20 cans of soup being thrown at someone would be distracting, Sheriff Fitzgerald said.
One caller near the end of the show noted most small towns have a police department, and the police department is often in a small building and does not take up very much space.
Perhaps small-town police departments could be located in schools, the caller suggested.
“That’s an interesting idea. I do not disagree. It might be a solution,” Sheriff Fitzgerald said. [/emember_protected]