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Preparing for disaster

Cops train to fend off 'Columbine' repeat

Cops train to fend off 'Columbine' repeat

April 12, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Police officers from across West Virginia and neighboring Frederick County, Va., this week are receiving "active shooter" training at Martinsburg High School, where none of them hope they have to return to employ it.

"We watched the events of Columbine (High School) unfold like everyone else on TV," said Hays County (Texas) Sheriff's Office Deputy Sgt. David Burns, one of four instructors with the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Center that is providing four days of instruction.

On April 20, 1999, gun-wielding teenage students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold entered the Littleton, Colo., high school where they shot and killed 13 people and critically wounded 24 others before killing themselves.

That day, Burns said Harris and Klebold infamously became what law enforcement officials describe as "active shooters" or individuals whose overriding intent appears to be mass murder. And law enforcement officers who first responded to the high school weren't trained to intervene in such dangerous conditions, a circumstance that prompted the need for a program like ALERRT, Hays said.

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Though based at Texas State University in San Marcos, the ALERRT training program was made available to 10 agencies outside of Texas thanks to a U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance grant awarded last year, Burns said. The Berkeley County Sheriff's Department was notified it was one of those agencies in November.

"This is an insurance policy," Burns said. "I commend these folks because they are taking a more active approach."

With Berkeley County public schools on spring break, the officers who were from at least 10 jurisdictions, including Shepherd University and a federal agency, had the upper floor of the school at their disposal Wednesday to stage tactical team movements, rescue situations and force-on-force exercises during the 16-hour training course.

"It's like drinking from a fire hydrant," Burns said.

"Your training has just begun when we leave (here)," Burns added.

Berkeley County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy Kenneth Lemaster Jr. said he and Sheriff's Deputy Capt. D.E. Streets learned about the ALERRT program after researching available opportunities last year to meet the agency's in-service requirements.

Streets said the sheriff's department's application likely benefited from the agency's proximity to a number of schools and Washington, D.C.

Lemaster said U.S. Department of Justice officials might travel from Washington, D.C., to observe some of the training sessions scheduled for today and Friday. Lemaster also credited school officials for supporting the training exercises.

Berkeley County Sheriff's Deputy Jack Fleagle said the training was "some of the best" that he had attended. For the benefit of assembled journalists, Fleagle was carried and dragged down a hallway at least three different ways to show officers how they could still "clear" an area at the same time as removing someone who was injured.

"I think this is extremely good training," Fleagle said.

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