Local law enforcement train for potential shooter scenarios
July 14, 2011
From a distance, there appeared to be trays of rainbow colored chalk atop the receptionist counter Wednesday in the Craig Middle School entryway.
But, looks were deceiving — the trays actually contained fake bullets in an assortment of colors.
Although the items were no more harmful than the chalk they resembled, to local law enforcement officers their use in a training scenario could someday make the difference between life and death.
About 14 members of the Craig Police Department and Moffat County Sheriff's Office spent Wednesday at CMS participating in annual active shooter training. Preparing for a shooter entails engaging a gunman directly and quickly, Craig Police Chief Walt Vanatta said.
"We don't always have time to set up and wait for cover, so this way we just go in as fast as possible," he said. "We have to work on how to get to the target safely."
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The training involved role-playing various scenarios that could unfold in a contained area.
Vanatta said incidents like the 1999 Columbine High School shootings opened the eyes of law enforcement agencies to such dangers.
"You go to small communities and you just never know when this kind of thing could happen," he said.
While training, officers used air rifles and 9-millimeter handguns, both retrofitted to use Simunition cartridges, or multi-colored, detergent-based pellets that stand in for real bullets.
Vanatta likened the equipment and the experience to paintball.
"I got winged by one of them," Vanatta said. "It's a little sting, nothing big, but it lets our guys see how they can improve in a scenario like this."
Alvin Luker, the police department's chief firearms instructor, led the training session.
"I think it's been really helpful because it lets them experience the real stress involved," he said. "It's different for every scenario, dealing with a bad guy, but they have to change their tactics from control and contain."
Luker, a firearms instructor with the department since 2003, has been conducting the active shooter training for about five years. Officer Travis Adams attended last year's session.
"It's pretty fast-paced and every year we improve our training," he said. "It's realistic stuff, too, so we're not expecting a tank to roll down an alley or anything like that."
Vanatta said part of the reason for hosting the training at CMS was for officers and deputies to get a feel for the surroundings at a building where a gunman could do serious damage. In the past, the department has trained at Moffat County High School and other schools, as well.
"We've never had anything like that here, thank God, but you never know what could happen," he said. "With the sheriff's deputies here, it gives us a chance to get used to each other for these kinds of emergency situations."
Vanatta said the Moffat County School District's support in providing facilities helped make the training go smoothly.
"We have a great partnership that is oriented toward doing everything possible to provide the community with safe and secure schools and a safe learning environment for the children," he said.
Joe Petrone, school district superintendent, agreed.
"We've always been willing to conduct training for this kind of situation and do whatever we can to support them," he said.
While no school shooting incidents have occurred in Moffat County, being prepared is always crucial, Petrone said. He believes the capability of local law enforcement and other emergency agencies is at its peak.
He witnessed their proficiency during a fire lockdown at CMS in his first year as superintendent.
"We were very pleased with their speed and reaction time," he said. "Safety has been at a high level ever since my introduction to the community."