Police train in school buildings to prepare for a potential shooting incident

Photo Credit: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Officer Jacob Jones maneuvers through a classroom during an active threat training exercise last week at Lake Oswego High School.There’s no reason to believe that Lake Oswego is immune to violence in its schools.

Other cities in Oregon — Springfield, Roseburg, Prineville, Bend — have all been victims of school shootings since 1998; just this past June, a murder-suicide at Reynolds High School rocked southwest Troutdale — a 30-minute drive from Lake Oswego.

And last year, two bomb threats at Lake Oswego Junior High and one at Lake Oswego High had nerves on edge here, even after they appeared to be hoaxes.

In every case, these situations required a quick police response from officers trained to deal with a shooter, a combatant with a machete, a caller warning of explosive devices planted in school buildings. Photo Credit: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - During a training exercise, Officer Ben Schneider faces off against a bad guy (Community Service Officer Brock Rosenthal).

Last week, Lake Oswego police offers made sure they are ready.

Clad in bulletproof vests and utility belts packed with equipment and weaponry, officers armed with AR-15 rifles and Glocks moved through Lake Oswego High hallways, two by two. Ducking in and out of classrooms, they methodically sought and then subdued faux assailants. Officers fired “simunition” — soap bullets tinted with red coloring.

“When you get hit with them, it marks your clothes or your skin,” Lake Oswego Police Sgt. Tom Hamann said. “You can see where you got hit.”

Lake Oswego officers have been training in area schools for 14 years, committing about three hours once a year to active-threat exercises. Volunteers act as victims to add verisimilitude. To familiarize themselves with area buildings, officers step through the halls of a variety of schools, not only in Lake Oswego but also in West Linn and Milwaukie.

“We try to pretty much go to all the schools,” Hamann said.

The eeriest experience for Hamann, a Milwaukie resident, was the year his son volunteered for a training exercise at Milwaukie High School, where he was a student. Hamann said it was strange to see his own son in school during a fake shootout. But volunteering is a great opportunity for students, he said.Photo Credit: REVIEW PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Paper combatants face off against police during a training last week.

“They usually have a good time, because they’re kids, and they get to pretend to do all kinds of stuff,” Hamann said. “But sometimes, it’s a little sobering for them, depending on the kid.”

There’s more to the training than the simulation with volunteers and fake ammunition. Officers also attend a two-hour PowerPoint presentation on active threats. One of the key lessons in the presentation and simulation: Officers must know the two key steps of a response to an active threat.

“Stop the threat,” said Lake Oswego Training Officer Mike Brady, “and render aid.”

The Washington County Tactical Negotiations Team helps officers structure their active-threat training, and other public safety agencies also have attended the exercises to better learn how to conduct their own. Some had resisted in the past because of funding concerns.

“They can’t afford not to do it now,” Hamann said.

Police and sheriff’s deputies aren’t the only ones who benefit from the training. Lake Oswego firefighters are on hand, just as they would be in a real emergency, ready to offer injured victims the care they need.

Lake Oswego Fire Battalion Chief Randy Hopkins said active-threat training is something that wasn’t around when he became a firefighter 28 years ago.

“Our world, we’ve gotten to the point where it’s something we have to do,” Hopkins said.

The training in Lake Oswego began in response to a school shooting — a few years after the 1999 massacre at Columbine High in Littleton, Colo., where two teens killed 12 students and a teacher.

“After Columbine, we’ve always tried to have a very robust training program when it comes to active threats,” Lake Oswego Capt. Dale Jorgensen said. “Prior to Columbine, you got there, you contained the scene and you waited for SWAT to show up.”

But a shooter in a school is not the same as a hostage situation in which officers try to wait out a shooter until SWAT arrives. It can take a specialized group more time to arrive than a local police agency. Now, local officers are trained to enter a school building quickly in an effort to stop a person who is inflicting mass casualties.

“Tactics have definitely evolved and changed since Columbine,” Jorgensen said.

He said officers adapt their methods as criminals adjust their behaviors. For example, emergency medical workers now enter “warm zones” — areas where shooters may be — to be closer to children who may need care. Police officers also can be trained to “give life-saving medical care” to victims, according to a March 2014 report on active-shooter incidents by the Police Executive Research Forum.

The biggest change, though, may be in the name of the training itself. It’s no longer called “active-shooter training,” but “active threat” to reflect a host of other dangerous weapons, such as knives, Molotov cocktails and even cars, for which officers must prepare.

“Threats can take many shapes and forms, so we want to make sure what we’re calling it is accurate. We don’t want to get tunnel vision and focus only on an active shooter,” Jorgensen said. “So that’s why the terminology changed. It seems like every year, a different threat presents itself.”

With students facing so much these days, it's reassuring to know that there's someone there to help, said Travis Johnson, vice principal at Lake Oswego High School.

"If the worst case scenario happens ... I think it's a huge advantage for (officers) to know the layout of the building and know where they need to go and be able to get there as quickly as possible to help students," Johnson said.

By Jillian Daley
503-636-1281, ext. 109
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