Staff Photo: Barbara Knowles
NCSO Firearms Instructor Deputy Walt Taylor, left, gives instructions on how to approach a suspect barricaded at the top of a stairwell. “They call this Death Alley,” he said as he led the team up the stairs.
COVINGTON — Newton County Sheriff's Office personnel were in a training session last week, learning skills they hope they won't ever need to use. They've met at Newton Baptist Church on Jack Neely Road and played out scenarios demonstrating danger to victims and officers, alike.
A cross-section of certified officers from all departments, including school resource officers, detention deputies, courthouse security personnel, investigators and road deputies have joined forces to practice strategies to implement if they are faced with a shooter in a public building.
The idea is to be able to make the most resources available and to put as many officers as possible into a situation as quickly as they can.
"In an active shooter situation, speed is important. We don't have time to wait on SWAT," said Lt. Keith Crum. "Many of the things we're doing here are a result of lessons learned from Columbine and other situations."
It has been established that lives were lost at the Colorado Columbine High School shooting because the first officers on the scene were not authorized to enter the building, but instead waited for the SWAT officer to arrive.
"In a shooting situation we have to get in and isolate the shooter and evacuate the most people possible," said Public Information Officer Deputy Courtney Morrison.
Teams of officers are formed, each position on the team with a designated duty, and they go forward and proceed to clear the building of danger.
"One of the purposes of this training is to enable communication ... each person knows where the other person on the team is going," Crum said.
NCSO Firearms Instructor Deputy Walt Taylor gave deputies a scenario in which the group was to respond as if they had just arrived on the scene.
He told them there was a domestic situation going on and two females were in the prayer room at the church when another witness saw one of the women's husband arrive at the scene with a gun. He entered the building and shots were fired. The witness called 911 and deputies arrived at the scene, quickly forming a team to enter the building.
Taylor reminded the deputies to be sure and listen to exactly what the witness tells them because there could be clues as to the type of gun the suspect has, exactly where he may be hiding or other vital information. He also told them they were going to find a "wounded" person, but warned them that this person could be either victim or shooter and they would have to figure that out, as well.
"We had three guys ‘killed' yesterday," he told them, referring to a team that had gone through a similar scenario.
Crum said further training is planned this summer that would include the fire department, EMS and other emergency responders. And, he also pointed out, that in the case of a large incident, "God forbid like as a school shooting," the NCSO would have a public information post set up.
"We'd like for the public as well as the media to make use of the information coming from there," he said. "We don't want parents to feel like they have to come to the school. We'll get information out through the media and we need our citizens to go ahead and let us do our job ... knowing that everything is being done to secure the safety of teachers or students or whoever is involved. That way we hope to avoid mass confusion."
Morrison said the NCSO wished to thank Newton Baptist Church for the use of its building during the week and to the members who have taken part in the scenarios.
"They have been such great hosts and the volunteers have been wonderful," she said. "They've been great sports. Some of them have been lifted and dragged, and they've been so nice about it."