BUCKLEY -- According to the most recent data compiled by the FBI, there were 277 active shooter incidents in the United States between 2000 and 2018. 57 of those were in schools, with two dozen more in each of the last two years.
Whether it's an incident in a school, or in a workplace, most are over in less than 5 minutes, so police response time is critical. That's why Valley SWAT instructors are conducting active shooter training for patrol officers in south King County, because they will be the first to confront the threat.
I took part in the latest training, where around every corner and behind every door could lurk an armed gunman in an abandoned dormitory at the Rainier School in Buckley.
Patrol officers from Kent, Auburn and Federal Way, working in teams of three, had no suspect information, other than a report that someone came into the school and started shooting. Their job is to get in there immediately and address the threat. “Part of the dynamic of a scene like this is that it's chaos. There are innocents at risk, these people are potential hostages,” explained Kent Police Commander Jon Thompson. He heads up Valley SWAT and wants every patrol officer to learn these tactics. "It's gonna go from 0 to 60 very, very quickly. Take a deep breath. React to the situation,” Cmdr. Thompson told the officers.
First, the officers are instructed to listen, then go to the threat instead of flooding the entire area. Communication is key. They have to neutralize the threat, look for other dangers and watch each other’s backs.
The Valley SWAT instructors teach the Life Priority System. "I'm gonna place my life in danger to rescue the innocent bystanders and the hostages who are above me,” explained Cmdr. Thompson. The officers have to risk a lot to save a lot.
The goal of the training is recreate the same stresses and adrenaline rush officers would face in a real situation. They use Simunition rounds and role players like myself to create unexpected surprises. I played the part of an active shooter. I had a hostage in a room. The officers didn't know that there is a hostage and a bad guy coming out of the room. You know when you get shot, because the Sim rounds sting for sure and anything on the bone stings big time.
Each officer who completes the training will be better prepared the next time the call for help comes out, because it's unfortunately not a matter of if, but when. “I hope what they bring back with them is a realization that these tactics actually do work,” said Cmdr. Thompson. “Sometimes we see at the outset that they are not sure they are going to work. There's some hesitation because the Sim rounds we’re using, they don't want to get shot themselves, because it can be kind of painful, but also the realization that I can confront this situation using these tactics and I can be successful.”