Originally Published: July 2, 2008 10:14 p.m.
PRESCOTT - Officers burst through the door at Mile High Middle School on Wednesday and found students lying in the hallways. They moved from room to room trying to find the source of gunfire and to stop the shooter from any more killing.
Fortunately, this was a mock drill designed for training purposes.
The Yavapai County Sheriff's patrol deputies and trainees spent the day practicing multiple scenarios at the school to prepare them in case of a school shooting.
"We want our patrol officers to be able to respond to a school shooting without waiting for SWAT to arrive," explained Dwight D'Evelyn, media relations coordinator for Yavapai County Sheriff's Office. "We will still notify (SWAT) immediately."
D'Evelyn referred to the exercise as an "active shooter terrorist situation at an educational institution."
About three-dozen patrol officers worked with SWAT on different maneuvers to track down a would-be shooter on school grounds. They practiced movements based on knowing where the shooter is, if the shooter barricades himself in a classroom, and if the shooter takes hostages. Several high school students and graduates were there to help as "props."
"We are training our patrol for hands-on movement," said Nate Auvenshine, training sergeant for Yavapai County Sheriff's Office. "We started this program in the mid-'90s, but this is our first update in a few years."
"Our goal is learning to deal with an active, violent situation and our main concern is to move through the school, get the kids out safely and stop the shooter," Auvenshine said.
In many cases, the officers will not know who the shooter(s) are and "they can put their gun down and run out the door with the students," he said. "But our goal has succeeded if we can get the shooters to stop shooting and getting them out without their weapon."
After each mock exercise, Auvenshine debriefed with the group. Comments included, "work on movement, cover the point guy, check doorways, ignore what is going on around you, and keep looking for suspects."
"Debriefing is critical because that's where the training happens," D'Evelyn said. "The bottom line is we want to take quick action and not be waiting like we used to. Because of that, tactics are more important. These guys need a methodical way to neutralize the shooter. They also have to walk past the victims that may be injured on the floor to get to that shooter. That's hard to do when they are kids."
The best-case scenario would be to have the principal, teachers and students all take a preparedness class for emergencies, said Frank Alvarez, deputy for the Sheriff's Office. "They all need to know what to do and, with some training, they will know what we are doing."
In two weeks, Prescott High School will be the location for a multi-jurisdictional agency school shooting training. "This is important because an agency may train one way and another agency a different way," D'Evelyn said. "We want to bring the agencies together so they react efficiently."
Contact the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org