WAPATO, Wash. — As police in Newtown, Conn., were rushing toward the victims of the nation’s second-largest school shooting, their counterparts in Yakima County were training to respond to the same type of scenario here.
Although the coincidence is striking, it underscores that local agencies have been training — and more importantly, training together — for the past several years, knowing that a mass shooting is just as possible here as it is on the other side of the country.
The training at the Wapato Community Center and nearby Adams Elementary School started Friday and continued Saturday with 10 officers from several agencies, including Wapato, Selah and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. Between 2009 and 2011, most of nearly 400 reserve and full-time officers across the county received the same training. Refresher training will start next year.
Coordinators who oversee the 16-hour course say they are confident officers across the county are prepared to capably handle what law enforcement agencies refer to as an active-shooter situation, where the suspect must be located and subdued while he’s firing on innocent victims.
“They know exactly what they are going to do, and we’re going to take out the bad guy,” said Officer Tracy DeLozier of the Zillah Police Department.
DeLozier is one of 19 local officers certified as trainers for the course. They were instructed by Active Shooter Training, a King County firm that trains agencies across the country, through funding provided by a federal grant.
Yakima County agencies have been training on how to handle an active shooter since soon after the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colo.
But in 2009, local agencies agreed all would use the same training style. That means officers from Selah to Grandview could converge on a school knowing that all officers involved are familiar with the same tactics.
Nick Minzghor, the owner of Active Shooter Training, said it’s uncommon to see agencies that have taken a unified approach like Yakima County.
Minzghor said his experience with local trainers suugests Yakima County officers are well positioned to deal with a mass shooting.
“If they are all trained the same way, it makes it much easier to put together a plan and take action,” he said. “They’ll be a lot more organized,” he said.
“We don’t do the public any good if we go to a school helter-skelter and get ourselves killed quickly,” he said.
At Columbine, patrol officers waited outside the building even as shots rang out. The incident forced a nationwide shift in how officers approach calls where they know victims are under fire.
While officers are used to facing the prospect of deadly violence, they are generally taught to protect themselves as much as they can.
“It’s a re-learning, really,” Wapato Sgt. Neccie Logan said about the active-shooter course in comparison to standard officer safety protocols.
An active-shooter situation requires officers to directly confront the threat with a small group of officers who are available the soonest. There’s no time to wait for a SWAT team when people are dying.
“I know it’s scary, but we still have to get there,” trainer Jared Nesary, a Yakima police officer and SWAT team member, told one group of students Saturday after they completed a drill to teach them how to secure a classroom containing a gunman, teacher and children.
Actors perform those roles during the training, and Wapato police Chief Tracy Rosenow said the training wouldn’t be possible if the actors weren’t willing to be hit with airgun pellets and ordered around by the entry teams.
Mike King, a Selah resident, said he has volunteered to be an actor for six years.
“We do it because these guys get the training. It’s very important these guys get this, especially after what happened yesterday,” King said, referring to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which took the lives of 20 students and six adults at the school, plus the gunman’s mother. The gunman also died of a self-inflicted gunshot.
Officers noted the coincidence of the training starting on the same day as the Connecticut shooting, but added that Columbine highlighted the modern reality years ago.
The training puts them in position for the best possible outcome in a worst-case scenario.
“We don’t want to ever have to use this stuff, but we’re ready if it comes,” DeLozier said.
• Mark Morey can be reached at 509-577-7671 or firstname.lastname@example.org.