Powder Springs Police 'Ready as Any' for Active Shooter
Recent murderous incidents that have shocked the nation are a "constant reminder" for law enforcement, but it was the 1999 Columbine massacre that led to reforms in response by the city's officers and others across the U.S.
Police Chief Charlie Sewell said the Powder Springs police force is “as ready as any department is ready” if someone was to reign bullets down on a group of people in the city.
There aren’t any specific buildings or public grounds that are more likely to have a shooting, Sewell said. “It could happen in a business of three employees or it could happen in your largest factory.”
About a month ago, the department practiced an “active shooter” scenario at a school in Powder Springs. There, officers entered in groups of three to subdue someone playing the role of a shooter.
The simulation was taught by Barrow County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. David Aderhold, who has a long history of practicing SWAT and other extreme situations. He also gave classroom instruction to the department, explaining what do and showing video examples of related incidents.
Periodically done by Powder Springs police, Sewell said the training is not necessarily a direct response to the rash of recent shootings—the Colorado theater, the Wisconsin Sikh temple, and other smaller ones that grew in the national media in their wake.
Such events do serve as a “constant reminder,” he said, “but the active shooter classes have been going on in lots of departments ever since Columbine, so this is not new.”
“What law enforcement learned from Columbine (in 1999),” Sewell said, “was that practice of securing the area and setting up a police zone and waiting for a SWAT team to arrive was not a quick enough reaction to prevent an excessive amount of people from being killed.”
As simulated in the training, the first three officers on the scene “must go in and try to eliminate that active shooter,” the chief said.
“You train for reality,” he said. “A police officer spends their careers trying to save people’s lives, and as heart-wrenching as it may be, if you have a school or a church or a post office or any business where there’s an active shooter … the police officers that go in must skip over anybody that they find until they eliminate that active shooter.”
If they were to stop to help, others could be shot, injured and killed, Sewell said. The officers go toward the gunshots but have to pay attention to windows, rooms and the area behind them, he said.
A 2009 USA Today article for the 10-year-anniversy of Columbine detailed how the Powder Springs training is reflective of what’s going in police departments around the country.
“For three decades before Columbine,” it said, “law enforcement had followed a contain-and-wait strategy calculated to prevent officers and bystanders from getting killed: The first ordinary cops at the scene would set up a perimeter to contain the situation, and then wait for the experts—elite team members trained in military tactics and equipped with special protective gear and assault weapons—to go in and bring down the gunman.”
This system, the article said, was a result of Charles Whitman climbing a clock tower at the University of Texas at Austin with a sniper rifle and killing 14.
But after Columbine, as detailed by Sewell, “police across the country developed ‘active-shooter’ training,” USA Today said. “It calls for responding officers to rush toward gunfire and step over bodies and bleeding victims, if necessary, to stop the gunman—the active shooter—first.”