The Daily Courier Logo
Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
5:35 PM Wed, Sept. 19th

Worst-case scenario: Police train for school shootings

CHINO VALLEY - Joe Deedon is watching two armed men assault a school, all the while observing how police react and respond.

The school is Chino Valley High School. The police are officers from around the state.

The assault is a training simulation Deedon has created this Saturday afternoon to test the classroom knowledge these officers have gained from a full day of classroom instruction.

Deedon is owner of Colorado-based Tac-One Consulting. A veteran of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office (JCSO), which works Denver-area suburbs, he knows how situations like the ones he's operating can go horribly wrong in reality, as well as what officers can do to alter that outcome.

Police tactics have changed since the JCSO responded to a shooting at Columbine High School in 1999, when two teens killed 12 students and a teacher and injured 24 others.

"You can't wait around anymore," Deedon said. At Columbine, law enforcement followed the protocol for the time, which was for patrol units to secure the area and wait for SWAT to arrive and take over. "We had a hundred cops standing outside for an hour," he said, but in the most recent mass shootings, things "happened in less than two or three minutes."

He teaches that when the first officer arrives, "he's got to get right in the building and start working."

And that single officer, if properly trained, can change the tenor of the whole event, Deedon said. "Once (the gunman) has to deal with an armed threat, or their plan isn't going according to plan, they start having to make decisions.

"Usually, it's (a) giving up, or (b) taking their own lives," he said.

All weekend, officers from agencies around the state - from Window Rock to Pima County - were guests of the Chino Valley Police Department, which hosted the "Active School Shooter" training sessions to learn new techniques and hone their skills.

Officers take the scenarios seriously. One reason: the guns are real, loaded with "sim-rounds," which are like paintball rounds, but are impossible to see when fired and which are painful when they strike even clothed skin.

Chino Valley Police Sgt. Vincent Schaan said the urgency with which shooters act now dictates that police adapt to keep up.

"Before, when we were trying to find someone, we would do a thorough search" of every classroom, which cost valuable time. "Now we're learning, that, to protect against continued loss of life, if you go in and you don't (immediately) see someone...you move to the next room," he said.

Saturday's drills included three- and four-man team exercises, in which multiple officers confronted two or three gunman in the school's courtyard. It offers little in the way of cover, leading to running gun battles during some simulations.

Deedon coaches the officers as they make their way into the line of fire. "Head on a swivel," he calls out.

"Don't split up, don't split up," he shouts, as three officers leave a fourth, who goes after his own suspect. A second officer turns and rejoins his partner.

The bad guys are eventually subdued-one is shot three times, which equals a "downed" suspect-and the officers, breathing heavily, smile and high-five. Only one cop was hit, a shot that grazed his leg.

"This is basically as realistic as you can get," said Navajo Nation Police Officer Jefferson Lilly. "The adrenaline's pumping, you're sweating, and you feel what it's like to actually be in a gunfight."

Schaan said that realism is the key. "A lot of us officers go to the (firing) range all the time, and we're just shooting at a piece of paper. When you point your firearm at a real person and pull the trigger...it's real life."

Deedon debriefs the team after a simulation, offering praise and critiques.

"That was good. A lot going on there, man," he said, with a grin.

Follow the reporter on Twitter @AZNewsguy.