Issaquah police train for active shooter incidents

September 4, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

The worst-case scenario for most police agencies is a mass shooting — and Issaquah officers spend time preparing for the unthinkable.

The recent spate of such incidents — a Colorado movie theater and a Sikh temple in Wisconsin — called attention to the so-called active shooter training police undergo.

“Active shooter incidents are kind of rare, but they’re very traumatic when they happen, so we try to get as much training and expertise in that field as we can, along with many other things they train for,” Issaquah Police Chief Ayers said in a recent interview. “A lot of those things that they train for in active shooting can be used in their regular work — safety issues, how to react and those types of things.”

The training includes a classroom portion to examine the dynamics of active shooter situations and the equipment involved. The preparations also encompass a detailed scenario to simulate a rampaging shooter.

“They’re evaluated on each step as they go through it — to make sure they do it correctly and as a team member,” Ayers said.

Issaquah officers participated in active shooter training in recent months.

In a notable training session held in March 2011, officers from Issaquah and other police departments in the Coalition of Small Police Agencies participated in active shooter training. The exercise at Snoqualmie Middle School simulated a mass shooting in a classroom.

Established a decade ago, the Coalition of Small Police Agencies includes Issaquah, Snoqualmie and other King County cities. The group includes 14 police forces, and specializes in narcotics detection and other specialized tasks.

For the March 2011 exercise, police donned gear and carried rifles loaded with Simunitions, a type of nonlethal, dye-filled wax bullets.

Schools remain a common training site, in part because the 1999 massacre at Colorado’s Columbine High School changed the way police respond to such incidents.

“Up until when Columbine happened, it was surround and contain and wait until the SWAT team — the specially trained team with the special equipment — came in,” Ayers said. “We saw the end result of that.”

In the dozen years since the Columbine massacre, the dynamic changed for police responding to mass shootings.

“The purpose is to go in as it’s occurring, identify the threat, locate the offender and stop the offender from doing what they’re doing,” Ayers said.

Issaquah officers’ active shooter training came into play on a hectic Saturday morning last year.

Officers said the training helped them respond quickly in a September 2011 shootout on the Clark Elementary School campus.

Gunman Ronald W. Ficker, 51, toted rifles and more than 900 rounds of ammunition from a stalled vehicle in downtown Issaquah to the school, and then died in the shootout.

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