Facing fake bullets and real scars
April 19, 2011
By Sebastian Moraga
Issaquah Police Department joins shooting exercise in Snoqualmie
The shooter fired on the victims and policemen fired on him.
Then, they strolled one room over and reviewed it all while sipping Starbucks.
Another shooter fired twice. Police broke into his hideaway and unloaded on him.
Then, the shooter thanked the officers. They told him to give his family their best regards.
It may look like fun and games at times, but the Coalition of Small Police Agencies’ active shooter training is serious business.
Officers from 14 police departments trained at Snoqualmie Middle School March 28-31 for public-place shootings.
The setting was realistic: shots ringing out, victims screaming and police officers in full gear breaking into rooms like in the movies.
Firearms weighed the same, looked the same and felt the same as the real thing. They even loaded and disassembled the same way.
Instead of bullets, the weapons carried Simunitions, nonlethal wax bullets filled with dyed laundry detergent.
Instructors allowed no other weapons — like Tasers or batons — besides the Simunition-loaded guns and rifles. They frisked everyone entering the school — twice.
Officers received one loaded weapon and one magazine of Simunitions.
Issaquah Police Department Officer Paul Fairbanks said the training happens at a school because many shootings have occurred at one. Because of that, school districts often let police departments train on their property.
Such trainings happen at least once a year, Fairbanks said.
Coalition members include the police departments in Issaquah, Snoqualmie, Carnation and Duvall.
“About 10 years ago, these agencies got together and figured out that if they pooled their resources they could do more things,” Fairbanks said.
Active shooter training gives officers the basics for what Fairbanks called an “active shooter incident.” Using the latest military tactics, officers study and rehearse scenarios. Nobody improvises anything. Civilians acting as victims or shooters receive scripts beforehand.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said J.P. DeCuire, one of the shooters.
A Microsoft employee and friend of a friend of an officer, DeCuire said he gets specific instructions about how to behave.
“We’re supposed to put two shots in the dummy and then focus on the officers as they storm the room,” he said.
Eastside Fire & Rescue personnel observed the training to learn about what to expect from police at a shooting, Fairbanks said.
Normandy Park Police Sgt. Brian Sommer said he has seen interesting reactions from trainees.
“The first round hits them and we actually have to pick them up and tell them to keep moving,” he said.
Then, if they ever get shot in real life, they are more likely to keep moving and fight through it, he said.
The bullets may be fake, but they leave real scars.
Issaquah Police Department Officer Marty Martin’s arm looked like someone had burned it with a cigarette.
Everybody wore masks, neck protectors and soft body armor. All rounds sat inside a transparent bag, so instructors knew they were not real bullets.
“Safety is the utmost to us,” Sommer said.
All of the protection could not erase the tension in the air once the scenarios began.
“People get anxious,” Fairbanks said. “A lot of time their masks fog up because they’re breathing a little bit hard.”
The good guys do not always win in these scenarios, Fairbanks said. He and the other instructors dislike saying a scenario or an officer failed.
“I don’t want them doubting themselves,” he said. “Most scenarios they do there are going to be things they do well and some they need to work on.”