Officers practice hostage rescue

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A person with a gun is holed up in a classroom. He has a hostage. 911 has been called. Officers make their way down an unfamiliar hallway guns drawn, prepared to do their best to resolve the situation peacefully but fear that the person is irrational and won’t surrender.

They burst through a classroom door, shots are fired.

Thankfully, the whole scenario is just a drill. No one is hurt, the bullets are just paint.

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Local law enforcement are participating in direct threat training which is being provided through the Ohio State Highway Patrol after Gov. Ted Strickland mandated the training be available at no cost to all law enforcement in the state.

On Monday, members of the Ironton Police Department and troopers with the Ohio State Highway Patrol had a preparedness drill on the campus of Ohio University Southern in Ironton.

“After Virginia Tech, the governor’s office asked colleges who they would call to assist them with a problem like this, and 90 percent of them said they were going to call patrol,” OSHP Special Response Team member, Sgt. Mike Cleveland, said. “The patrol stepped back and said ‘Wow. Really? We need to get our people up to speed on this.’ So, we decided to get aggressive with our own people to respond to this sort of thing.”

Seth Douthitt, a state trooper and Special Response Team member, said the state-funded program that is taking place at this week Ohio University’s Southern campus is designed to train officers as Special Response Team members have been trained.

“It’s not a new concept,” he said. “We are just putting it out there for all law enforcement to have the ability to do it. We want everybody to be consistent and use the same tactics to be more effective.”

State patrol men pointed out the importance of time and communication during school shootings.

“With Columbine, police responded the way they were taught to respond at the time,” Cleveland said. “They responded to the situation, surrounded and waited for a tactical team to show up. We didn’t understand the concept back then. It’s an ongoing act of violence. That’s what we needed to change. There is no time to wait.”

Cleveland stressed the importance of finding the shooter first before dealing with anything else.

“We are not there to deal with the injured or talk to people,” he said. “It’s hard to do and it’s hard to do in uniform because people think you are home base. They think if they can get to you they are going to be safe. You have to peel them off and keep moving. For every second you stop to help someone, this guy is putting another person down. In essence, you are going hunting for the shooter.”

The shooter will not stop until they are stopped or run out of ammunition, Cleveland said. He said the Virginia Tech shooter had 200 rounds left and was obviously there for the long haul.

“They know we are coming and they know they are going to die,” he said. “The goal for them is to get the body count. Virginia Tech set the bar at 33. I guarantee at some point in time, somebody is going to make a run at that. It sounds like we are breaking it down into a game, but in their minds it is a game.”

The hands-on training with full armor and bullets that allowed officers to actually shoot and see what was hit allowed officers to have realistic experiences.

“To have this type of training where you are live-firing and the scenarios were set up tremendously,” Chief Deputy of the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department, Jeff Lawless, said.

Participants were placed in three situations. The first was the threat of one shooter. The second was a situation where the shooter had a hostage. The final was defending themselves against two shooters, when they were only aware of one.

Sgt. Beth Rist, of the Ironton Police Department, said she has not received any previous school shooting training.

“I think it’s pretty exciting. With everything going on, I just want to be prepared. I’m just glad to be a part of it,” she said.

Last year, 5,000 officers participated in the training.

Training sessions can be scheduled at any time with the Ohio State Highway Patrol.