During the holidays, Villa Rica’s police officers were preparing for life and death situations in the hallways of Villa Rica High School as part of “active-shooter” training. The training is meant to prepare officers for an incident in which an armed gunman is loose in a public setting.
Principal Dennis Brown said he was more than willing to accommodate police with their training because as a former law enforcement officer and SWAT team member he sees the value in it.
“I want to work with these guys in any way that I can,” Brown said. “I was really happy when they asked if they could use our school. The relationship we have with the local police department is amazing. I want the guys here as much as they want to be here.
“For their experience, they need to know the layout of the building as much as anything else, to be able to know what’s it’s like to be coming down a hallway with 1,500 kids running at you. Although we’re using cardboard, they’re getting the scenario of a crowded hallway. There’s nothing like the actual thing, but this gives them an idea.”
As officers conducted their training, the school’s intercom system blasted chaotic noise that included screaming, calls for people to stay down and phones ringing. The noise was meant to show officers how confusing it could be as they go after a man with a gun in a crowded setting with hysterical people in their midst.
“I appreciate what (Training Officer) Phillip Ball, Capt. Scott Parker and Capt. Eddie Thompson put into this. It was definitely very realistic,” Police Chief Michael Mansour said. “Many of the officers said afterwards what good training it was and how realistic it was. It’s something we’ve been wanting to do for a long time and we appreciate Mr. Brown letting us use his school.”
Several scenarios were played out within the hallways of the school as officers with riot helmets with face shields and air soft guns drawn burst through doors to the sight of cardboard students throughout the hallway that they had to navigate in search of the shooter as air soft pellets were shot in their direction.
“We’re training them to go in, identify the threat and take care of that threat,” Thompson said.
“There are a whole new set of rules not only for us, but other agencies as well, because of (the shooting) at Columbine (High School in Colorado in 2000). Us as a police department, we can’t wait on the SWAT team anymore. If there is an active shooter, we can’t gather outside and wait on the SWAT team. We’ve got to take action then because if we’re waiting and he’s in there killing people, he’s in there killing more and more the longer we wait.”
Parker said that in the 16-plus years he’s been at the Villa Rica Police Department there has never been active shooter training, but it is something, along with training for burglaries in progress and other live scenarios, he has pushed for and the department finally was able to accommodate.
“We’re finally in a situation where the equipment we’re using has gotten a lot cheaper,” Parker said. “This type of training allows the officers to have their heads in the right place if the situation comes up.”
Parker said the training began with scenarios before the officers enter the classroom again next month because it gives them a sense of what to expect. February’s arm of the training will allow officers to discuss what they did right and wrong and how to correct the mistakes made last month.
“We want them to make their mistakes and learn from them,” he said. “If you’re out doing something, you’re learning more than you are sitting in the classroom. We are going to have some classroom instruction with this where we’ll have a debriefing and then talk about future trends, past trends and things like, and then we’ll discuss what happened so they can kind of learn from one another.”
Later in the year, the training will continue with eight-hour sessions in which a group of law enforcement officers who have been through an actual active-shooter event will relate their experiences with the officers. Later, Officials are optimistic a large-scale active shooter training scenario can be put together involving fire, EMS and E-911 personnel.
“You need to know what to do in case it ever does happen, and then pray that it never does,” Brown said. “In today’s world, you’ve got to be prepared. There’s just no way around it.”
Some of the scenarios in the training included hostage situations that could translate to an office, hospital or any number of other venues outside of a school. In one scenario Brown acted as a hostage to an armed disgruntled teacher.
“We’re training for a school-type scenario, but this could happen anywhere at any time,” Parker said.
“I want these guys to be prepared and in the right mindset. We’re a small town and don’t normally get a lot of really big calls, but we don’t want our officers to be too lax.”