CHARLESTON - Officers of the Charleston Department of Public Safety and the Mississippi County Sheriff's Department were joined by officers from East Prairie, Poplar Bluff, Dexter and Scott City police departments over the weekend for a 16-hour course designed to prepare police and school officials to cope with a shooting crisis or other violent incident.
"The title of the course was, 'Rapid Response to an Active School Shooter,'" said Capt. Susan Rockett of the Charleston Police Department. "It's a course of instruction for smaller cities with smaller police departments teaching them to respond to a student or other person with a gun who is determined to kill fellow students or teachers."
The course, held Saturday and Sunday at the Charleston High School, was attended by 23 officers.
"I think it was very effective," said Rockett. "By 3:30 Sunday afternoon, there was a marked increase in everyone's confidence and sense of preparedness. The training was very appropriate for our needs."
Rockett said the training and coordination between area agencies is important because there is no full-time S.W.A.T. team in the area to respond to this type of crisis. "It uses regular officers - people on duty at the time - to take initiative and rapidly address the shooter," said Rockett.
While longer siege-type situations allow time for specialists to be brought in, it is important to develop "a pre-response plan that's realistic for a department our size," said Rockett.
She explained that in addition to training predetermined generalized procedures for immediately responding to any shooter within a building using available officers, the pre-response plan gives officers an opportunity to become familiar with the layout of the particular school where the course is held.
It is hoped training can be held at other of the area schools to achieve some degree of familiarity with the facilities, according to Rockett.
Saturday was dedicated to studying the history of school shootings.
On Sunday, elementary, high school and junior high students and adults from the community lent a hand by playing various roles in a series of scenarios training the "escalating use of force," according to Rockett, starting with a single shooter and working up to a scenario with multiple shooters and injured people involved. "The scenarios got progressively more complex and more chaotic," said Rockett. "We tried to make them as realistic as we can."
Blanks, sirens and strobe lights were all used "to make it as chaotic as it possibly could be," according to Rockett.
Although this is the first time the course has been held by the Charleston DPS, it is "part of our continuing effort to have corroborative efforts" with other area agencies, Rockett said.