A most unusual and hopefully totally unnecessary training was held last Friday at Smiley Elementary. Law enforcement officers from several agencies converged for training in active shooter scenarios that have been increasingly normal recently. But as Smiley City Marshal Mark Soto explained, it is best to have the training and never need it than to lack it and need it at a critical time.
“Today we are hosting an active shooter training run by the ALERRT Academy out of San Marcos,” Soto said. “It educates patrolmen on how to respond to the situation of an active shooter whether it be in a school setting or a business setting.”
The majority of those in attendance were reserve officers with the Smiley City Marshal's Office. Others attending were from the Atascosa County constable's office, Bertram Police Department, and Gonzales County Constable Precinct 4.
ALERRT is the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training program, which has been teaching officers around the country since 2002. It was initiated by the carnage witnessed during the Columbine High School massacre. The course is described as “instruction designed to prepare the first responder to isolate, distract, and neutralize an active shooter.” The course covered shooting and moving, threshold evaluation, concepts and principles of team movement, room entry techniques, breaching the crisis site, improvised explosive devices, and post engagement priorities of work. The course culminates with dynamic “force-on-force” scenarios.
The ALERRT program is based out of Texas State University. It is grant funded, which means it did not cost the marshal's office or the school anything to host. Soto said that they were the ones that sought out the training.
“We have a deputy on board who interned with the academy while he was in college and maintained those contacts, and in light of recent events, we thought that it would be important to get our deputies some of that training,” Soto said.
That deputy, Richard Polfus, was engaged in the class and said the course reiterated the importance of continual training to maintain proficiency in firearms and tactics.
“This training demonstrated once again the value and power of teamwork,” Polfus said. “What several trained officers can do as a team utilizing sounds tactics and communication is exponentially more than an individual officer.”
The class was open for observation to this reporter, but it was requested that recording, reporting, and photographing of certain tactics be withheld because of the possibility that they could be used against the officers should a “bad guy” get the information ahead of his plans to attack a school. But what was obvious was the attention to detail and the real-world scenarios that were performed in the very hallways and classrooms where Smiley children will be retuning to in just a matter of weeks. Even if the guns were not real, the shouts and instructions echoing off the walls were as officers role played confronting a live shooter.
One of the instructors was Jeff Waters, who underlined the importance of the officers getting the training that they needed. This was but one of many classes that ALERRT offers to law agencies.
“It's a Level 1 active shooter class,” Waters said. “It's a two-day class. We also have an instructor-level class which continues this same class, it's a five-day class. What they are going to be learning is how to effectively respond to an active shooter. The better and quicker that they can get in and stop the killing from happening inside, the better it's going to be for everybody. And that way we can be quicker on getting [the victims] out and stopping the bleeding.”
When asked if any of the officers he has trained had been involved in active shooter situations, he said that a few have. If such a thing can be called a “success story,” it's that the officers have learned to react and respond to such a high intensity scenario.
Soto said that none of his officers have been involved with an active shooter event. But what he wanted to make certain to anyone looking to do harm is that his force is prepared and ready to take on and take down anyone that attempts to do mass harm in Smiley.
“This training at the actual school in Smiley familiarized me and the rest of the Smiley deputies with first-hand knowledge of the school layout,” Polfus said. “This will allow for both a faster response and the ability to increase the use of tactics inside the building.”
The officers did wish to thank the Nixon-Smiley CISD for allowing the use of their campus for the training. For without their cooperation, they would not be able to prepare themselves to respond to the unthinkable.
“Our goal is to educate our officers with the layout of the school as well as educate them and provide them training with the ability to respond to some type of situation of this nature,” Soto said. “We can't properly prepare for a situation of that magnitude, but we can do our best to train in the event that it does occur.”