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Local officers ‘prepare for the worst’ with active shooter training

It’s the training that you hope you never have to use in a real life situation.

A school hallway in chaos. Teachers running through the halls screaming, the sound of gunfire echoing off the concrete block walls, officers with guns drawn walking past bodies lying on the floor.

That was the scene two weeks ago at Handley Middle School, and fortunately none of it was real, as the Roanoke Police Department went through active shooter training leading up to the start of the 2022-23 school year.

Over 70 volunteers participated in the training in which officers were charged with maneuvering through the chaos of those volunteers running and screaming through the halls of the school to simulate an active shooter environment.

“We’ve had active shooter training before in the past, and some things have changed since then,” said Roanoke Police Chief Jonathan Caldwell. “The more shootings that go on, the more they look into it. What to do, and what not to do. It just kind of progresses along, and it was good for us to have an update with the new stuff in it.”

Caldwell said that he had been in discussions to conduct a training session, but the shooting that killed 21 people at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24 accelerated those discussions.

“We had already been talking about doing it, but the recent shooting did push us to do it, to get something planned,” Caldwell said.

The training came from former Roanoke police officer Colby Norred, who now works as an instructor at the East Alabama Police Academy. Norred conducted classroom sessions with the officers prior to putting them into the simulated scenario. It was the verbal instructions that officers would put to use later in the day.

“This is how you do this. This is how you clear a room. This is how you bypass a room. You’re going to the threat,” Caldwell said. “Go to the active shooter to eliminate that threat as soon as possible, but also be safe while you’re doing it.”

Officers went through the simulation one by one or in pairs. They entered the building knowing there was an active shooter threat, but not knowing where that threat was located. Volunteers were instructed to create as much chaos as possible, so officers had to navigate a hallway filled with people running and screaming, while also stepping over people lying on the floor simulating dead victims.

Caldwell played the role of the shooter, and with each run-through of the scenario he stood in the hallway and fired a blank round to indicate to the officers where the shooting was coming from.

The officers were armed with guns that fired non-lethal rounds, similar to paint-ball rounds, and had to fire at Caldwell to eliminate the threat.

The environment clearly affected the nerves of many of the officers as they went through the simulation.

“They were nervous about that. Their adrenaline was pumping. It was the closest that we could get to real life. All the people that were there, the volunteers that were there that gives it another factor because you don’t know who’s coming.”

Caldwell was also armed with non-live rounds, so the officers had to prepare for the possibility that Caldwell would fire back at them. They also didn’t know if he was the only threat, so they had to be alert to other possibilities amid the chaos. In a moment that provided some levity after the training session was complete, Roanoke City Schools superintendent Greg Foster nearly found himself in the line of fire.

“He was across the hall trying to get a picture with his phone stuck out, and one of the officers thought it was a gun,” Caldwell said. “Colby had to stop him from going to [Mr. Foster.] They didn’t know who was going to have the gun. They knew I was there, but they didn’t know if anybody else was there. Because any time you go to any type of training there’s always something there that they do that you don’t realize. They were coming in blind. They didn’t know what was happening.”

The response of the local law enforcement officers in the Uvalde shooting has been heavily criticized, and Caldwell said he wants to make sure his officers don’t find themselves in a similar situation.

“I don’t know everything that went on there, and I don’t want to be a couch quarterback,” Caldwell said. “But I’ve heard that they didn’t go and eliminate the threat. And that’s not good. When people are getting shot, and you as a police officer aren’t doing anything, it’s a problem. And most likely that comes down to training. Being chief law enforcement officer in Roanoke it’s my job to make sure they’re trained properly and trained well. That’s what I want to do.”

While talking about an active shooter at a local school can create apprehension among some, Caldwell said he hopes that this training helps the community feel a little bit more at ease.

“Don’t live your life in fear,” he said. “We’re training to do the best we can if it does happen. But you can’t live your life in fear. You have to live your life. Prepare for the worst and pray for the best, and hope for the best.”

Active shooter training

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