I recently attended a three-day active shooter course held at Rose State College in Midwest City, Oklahoma. The Midwest City Police Department hosted this event. Lt. Greg Wipfli and Sgt. Jerry Kennedy of Midwest City PD as well as Sgt. Troy Fullbright, Moore PD and Lt. Ben Crockett of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol instructed. All the instructors shared their extensive knowledge of dealing with active shooters. Each was passionate about teaching other officers to effectively defeat an active shooter(s).
Attendees were officers from throughout Oklahoma representing various law enforcement specialties including SWAT, patrol, K-9, narcotics, explosive technicians, as well as a police chief and a police chaplain. Many students had never attended an active shooter class and wanted to prepare themselves for this possibility.
Sgt. Kennedy told officers that they will have to form up and stop the killing. “When the crap hits the fan, you have to go into harm’s way and stop the bad guy. No more waiting outside until SWAT comes. You’re it!” We screened films of past active shooter incidents, from the Columbine incident to Virginia Tech to international incidents. The class discussed in detail how things have evolved for patrol officers today.
Law enforcement has many tools to deal with an active shooter, but not all departments use them. Some departments have rifles available to patrol units, but others still do not allow their officers to carry long guns. The police chaplain, who is also a member of his department’s tactical team, says that he often hears the statement, “It (an active shooter) cannot happen here. He shook his head and said, “How wrong they are.” The chief in our group commented that he is well aware that, “when it comes down to an active shooter that you throw in everything including the kitchen sink to stop them.”
“That’s what I wanted to hear,“ Sgt. Fullbright, stated. “I wanted to hear some passion for the job,” he said. “There are far too many officers from rookie to veterans who have no passion for the job. They are the ones who more than likely will never set foot in a class but are the first ones to encounter an active shooter.” “Then,” Fullbright said, pointing the chaplain, “He will be the one giving the eulogy!“
We had a lively discussion about formations. Formations were geared for at least three officers. Personnel from rural agencies were concerned since their nearest back-up could be 30 minutes en route. Basically, “get your ass in there and handle it” was the class’ response. I suggested that those who want to play it safe are in the wrong line of work! From my perspective, we are the ones who raised our right hands and took an oath to protect those who cannot protect themselves.
We also took on board lessons learned for foreign active shooter situations. We reviewed video of the Beslan school terror incident. This siege began with 1,100 people taken hostage. After three days, Russian Special Forces attempted to regain control of the school. In that process, 380 people lost their lives, including 177 children.
The class also studied the 2008 Mumbai, India terror incident in which resulted in 164 deaths including 10 of the attackers. This incident was a wake-up call for law enforcement worldwide. Ill-equipped Mumbai police officers armed only with antiquated .303-bolt action rifles had to combat well-trained terrorists armed with AK-47’s, hand grenades, and semi-automatic weapons as they made simultaneous attacks across the city.
“Now instead of enforcing the law locally, police officers must be prepared to deal with terrorists,” Lt. Crockett told us. We are in the front line to intervene in the next Columbine, Virginia Tech, mall shootings and yes, even in places of worship.
I was amused at some chit-chat during the hands-on portion of the training. While we were waiting for our turn to fire, one of the officers attending was relating a previous active shooter class in which an instructor stated, “Who are you going to trust to defeat an active school shooter, Joe Schmoe, the janitor?” I smiled to myself.
Everyone in the room laughed. I said, “So, you think that’s funny about the janitor stopping an active shooter, huh”? My class colleague said yes. He went on to say that assistance would probably be an off-duty officer picking up his kid. This would be the likely person who would take down the shooter, in his opinion.
“Are you sure about that?” I asked him. “Trust me,” he responded, “I know that ain’t no way in hell a cook, janitor, or some stock person working at Walmart would be able to stop an active shooter.”
I asked my fellow colleague, “Do you know what my full-time job is? He answered, “A cop, right? I advised, “No, my full-time job is a janitor at one of the schools in the metro area. I am also one of the 4,200 reserve cops in the state of Oklahoma and very proud of it.” They stopped laughing after I said that.
Only 15,000 full-time police officers serve in a state with over a million citizens. Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Department boasts the largest reserve force in the state with over 300 reserve deputies. All 77 counties rely heavily on trained reserve forces. Most of us who serve have regular vocations. Some are physicians, attorneys, and, yes, janitors.
Who may have the quickest response time to engage an active shooter? The SWAT officer hours away or the first responder who is minutes away? Or could it be the janitor who happens to be a reserve cop who has his active shooter bag with him? I have body armor within reach at all times as well as an identifying police vest. I work with the school resource officer who is more than happy to have someone with active shooter training available. With the specialized training I recently received, I am confident that I can engage an active shooter.
Now getting gum out from underneath the desk, that’s another story!
Ken Wise is a reserve police officer who also serves as the department chaplain at Mid America University in Oklahoma City. He is employed as a full-time janitor in a metro Oklahoma City area school with over 2000 students. He is an Army and Navy reserve veteran. His personal experience in an active-shooter situation four years ago makes him determined to do whatever he can to see that every officer receives this training.