OXFORD • In a room full of more than a hundred people, there was complete silence as audio played from Columbine 911 caller Patti.
Throughout the call, Patti shared how she at first thought the gun was fake, then stated she did not feel safe closing the door of the library she was hiding in. The call ended with the active shooter gaining entry into the library.
At the Thursday Active Shooter for Civilians Training session, Alan Ivy, the administrative captain for the Oxford Police Department, said she had only four minutes to lock or block the door. He told attendees that average response times from law enforcement is three to five minutes, which means a person only has minutes to have a plan.
While civilian active training is a service OPD has offered for more than five years, Ivy said that demand for it has increased a lot over the past two years. Thursday’s session was scheduled in direct response to the recent active shooter events in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, that took place last weekend. A few attendees said they were there both in response to those two events and to the July 30 shooting at a Southaven Walmart.
OPD teaches Avoid Deny Defend, which is protocol developed by Texas State University to teach people how to respond during a hostage situation. Ivy said they talk about the psychology of people in an active shooter situation to teach people that they need to already have a scripted plan of what to do if one takes place.
“If you go into a situation like this and the stress hits, you can’t really come up with a plan at that point,” Ivy said.
OPD also has a Citizen Police Academy, where people can learn about the inner workings of the police department and hear information about not only active shooter protocol, but other topics such as code enforcement and citizens safety. Ivy said they also offer additional training based on demand. While Thursday’s class was larger than normal for the police department’s training building, he has taught as few as two people and as many as 150 or more for schools.
“Being educated and being trained is one thing. We can all go to a certain kind of training and be really good at that for a week or two until we forget about it. I think the main thing is to keep it on your mind, to change your lifestyle,” Ivy said. “I don’t want people to live paranoid, but when they go out in public, they should have a plan in mind.”
For other area police departments, their training on responding to active shooter events is directly influenced by studying other events and response times. Tupelo Police Department Deputy Chief Allan Gilbert said that officers knew many of the people in Southaven and always look at other active shooter and disaster events to study how other officers responded and train for their own response in case something occurs.
“I was proud of Southaven’s response. I think it was under a couple of minutes and you had a couple of people killed, but it could have been much, much worse if it wasn’t for the police response. Just like Dayton; it could have been so much worse if it wasn’t for those heroes that responded,” Gilbert said. “... El Paso, too, is just tragic, but, again, your first responders were training every day.”
Gilbert said even natural disasters, such as the tornado that hit Tupelo in 2014, taught them the importance of training and coordinating efforts with other law enforcement agencies. Because of the 2011 Smithville tornado, in which Tupelo PD assisted with search and rescue efforts, they knew what to do when Tupelo was hit, and worked with the people who helped train them.
Tupelo PD recently had a representative attend a meeting in Oxford to discuss recent events and what to do, and they already have partnerships with federal agents.
Because the Southaven and El Paso shootings both occurred in Walmart stores, Gilbert said that he has had a few people stop him to tell him they had concerns. His response has been to increase patrols. They already make sure to have plenty of officers on foot patrol for downtown events, but he said Tupelo police would try to be more visible and vigilant to help protect citizens.
Like Oxford, Tupelo police also offer the Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events (CRASE) course, as well as the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training. Gilbert said they have been teaching CRASE and ALERRT for more than 10 years and have certified CRASE instructors who can come help businesses train or access information on how to respond to not only active shooter events, but other crisis events such as domestic violence and workplace violence.
Over the past few days, Gilbert said Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton has expressed a desire to meet to ensure various city departments are trained so that everyone can be prepared and safe. TPD also teaches citizens to be aware of their surroundings and advise looking for videos and presentations on Avoid Deny Defend to self-educate.
TPD also does a lot of training with the local high school and community colleges. They have a partnership with the Tupelo School District to have additional officers and now have nine school resource officers available. They have teams meet to discuss other drills, such as natural disasters, and Gilbert said he is glad for the partnership and the school system’s willingness to pay for more officers.
“If kids feel safe, they’ll learn. We’ve got an excellent group of officers at the schools, and they have a security team at the schools, so they’re doing extra precautions to make sure our kids are as safe as possible. I couldn’t ask for a better partnership than what we have with the Tupelo School District,” Gilbert said.
Union County Sheriff Jimmy Edwards also expressed gratitude in having trained officers available at all four area schools to help keep students safe. Edwards said when active shooter events occur, people often turn to the Union County Sheriff’s Office. They have worked with the Mississippi Office of Homeland of Security to ensure they can offer people the latest information to be prepared. In addition, all officers have been trained in the active shooter course, with many doing it multiple times.
“(Active shooting)’s something that definitely seems to be happening a lot across the country, unfortunately. I think ours are trained in that and are ready to respond if that situation arises,” Edwards said.
Edward’s office also speaks with groups on a requested basis. He said since the Walmart shooting events are fresh, he has not heard a lot of requests, but when churches were being targeted, he often had several local churches ask for presentations. Edwards said many schools and churches now have security teams in place. Teachers and staff members at all of the schools are taught to be more aware and have training on active shooter events.
Citizens are advised to report any suspicious activity to local authorities for them to investigate and be aware of their surroundings.
“Try to get a detailed description of an automobile, tag number, things like that would help us get a description of the suspect,” Edwards said.
The Union County Sheriff’s Office occasionally uses active shooter scenarios for their training, and Edwards said they are taught to confront the situation head-on in order to stop the threat as quickly as possible. The main reason for active shooter training is because it’s unpredictable, Edwards said.
“It’s hard to plan for the unknown,” Edwards said.