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Independence Police Chief Vern Wells, officer Robert Barlow and Dallas Police officer John Wallace (from left) advance toward the sounds of gunfire past "victims" during a training exercise Jan. 2 in Grand Ronde.
January 08, 2013
GRAND RONDE -- A trio of police officers navigate their way through hallways, doors and screams in the old Willamina Middle School in Grand Ronde.
They're headed toward the southeast wing -- there are two men with guns there, holding children and teachers hostage.
The officers reach the location beyond a locker room and are greeted by a hail of gunfire. They shoot back. One of the suspects drops to the ground, groaning.
As they secure the room, Mike Herbes steps over spent cartridges to put a stop to what is -- thankfully -- only a training exercise.
A training coordinator for the Department of Public Safety and Standards, Herbes gives a quick critique: the three took down the faux bad guy quickly enough, but didn't secure certain parts of the room.
They also paused outside the door, which made them easy targets.
"Remember, dominate, eliminate and control the situation," Herbes said.
Dallas Police Det. Josh Calef was a spectator, recording the action for departmental training. He went through the chaotic scenarios last year.
"You're trying to identify where things are going on, paying attention to what other people are seeing," Calef said. "The kids are in there all running around.
"And this is only five or six kids," he continued. "At school, you might have 500 to 1,000 ... it's a lot to ask of you."
Last week dozens of law enforcement officials from local agencies ran through "active-shooter" training sessions in Grand Ronde, complete with paint-shooting fire arms, bogus suspects and students and adults from the community and West Salem portraying victims.
DPSST trainer Mike Herbes, an Army Special Forces veteran, briefs his "victims" before running a scenario Jan. 2.
The goal was showing how best to minimize casualties in a mass shooting incident and learning situational awareness, said Herbes, an Army Special Forces sergeant major who served in Afghanistan.
"We can run officers through this without role players and they would do all the techniques and it would look perfect," he said, noting variables such as multiple shooters, IEDs and darkened rooms would be introduced later that day.
"With bad guys, weapons, casualties, it's more like dancing with a full orchestra and it's a lot harder," he said.
Once the realm of tactical police units, active shooter training is relatively common for police agencies. Herbes has run up to 12 sessions a year across the state for DPSST since 2004.
"It needs to be attainable," Herbes said. "All officers need to be able to do it, regardless of physical ability or experience."
This was the third joint session since 2010 for the county's three municipal police departments, Grand Ronde's new tribal police and the county sheriff's office.
DPSST training coordinator Mike Herbes demonstrates a technique to Mike Hamilton and Kevin Alexander.
It had been scheduled prior to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., last month that left 26 dead and the Clackamas Town Center shooting in Milwaukie just days earlier that killed two.
"You would be irresponsible if you didn't prepare for it," said Independence Police Sgt. Bob Mason. "Granted, there's never been (a mass shooting) in Independence.
"I can say there have been shootings in (Milwaukie) and Springfield, though," he continued.
Oregon State Police has been doing mass shooter training regularly since the late 1990s, sparked by the incident at Columbine High School in Colorado, said Terry Miller, an OSP trooper and regional trainer who assisted last week.
The approach continuously evolves and now stresses speed in confronting a shooter, rather than surrounding a facility and waiting for a SWAT team.
"With Columbine, that was proven to be totally unacceptable," Miller said. "The amount of time (to set up) equated to more dead kids."
Miller said the tactic switched to the first four or so responding officers forming a unit to hunt a suspect. An opinion now is that the first officer on scene needs to "strongly consider" going into a building, he said.
"There's a realization that we may not be able to wait for four guys," Miller said. "Statistically, the shooter stops as soon as the first officer confronts him and, statistically, they commit suicide."
Mindsets have had to change as well, Miller said.
"Initially, I would hear guys say `This is way more than I signed on for. I don't have heavy armor like a SWAT guy,'" Miller said. "Now what I'm hearing is ... `I'm going to treat this as if those were my kids.'
"This is no longer a game of minutes," he said. "It's a game of fractions of minutes."