News From Terre Haute, Indiana

April 19, 2013

Training Scenario: Wabash Valley police agencies spend day working together

Lisa Trigg
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — After drilling together Thursday on how to respond to an active shooter, officers from several area police agencies are taking away a common approach to training.

In addition to ending a simulated threat inside the former Boys & Girls Club building on Third Street, officers from the Terre Haute Police Department, the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department, West Terre Haute and Indiana State University also dealt with triage and victim evacuation as part of a weeklong training that continues next week with Indiana State Police participation.

“This training is a little different than in the past, because all of the agencies are now focusing on triage and evacuation,” said Shawn Keen, assistant chief of the Terre Haute Police Department. “We are looking at dealing with not only the initial threat, but [with] the other situations.”

All of the agencies have trained their officers differently to do the same things, Keen said, but that can work against officers who respond to a multi-agency situation.

“We’ve got to act as one unit when we respond,” Keen said. “The mission is the safety of the people involved.”

In looking at emergency response, he said, it is more realistic that officers from multiple agencies will respond to an active shooter. Whichever officers are closest — whether on-duty or not — will likely get to the scene first.

“We all have to work together, so we should be clear on how each other is going to respond,” Keen said. “We need to respond together.”

An active shooter situation in Terre Haute is not far-fetched. Keen said he responded to an active shooter in 2003, when a man walked into a pawn store, asked for a shotgun, loaded it with shells that he brought with him and shot the clerk. The man then went outside and started shooting at passers-by.

Keen said that he and another officer were nearby when the incident began, and they were able to get to the shooter while he had stopped to reload the shotgun.

While school shootings are highly publicized, he said, they account for only a third of the active shooter situations in the United States. Most shootings involve the workplace, and in most cases, the shooter probably does not intend to exit the building alive.

One part of the training the officers learned was to stay in physical contact with a partner. As one officer advances with weapon drawn during a search for the “bad guy,” a second officer with weapon drawn covers the rear, while a hand or hip is in contact with the other officer so they know where each other is located.

In another scenario, officers must travel down a long corridor and round a corner, not knowing if a suspect is waiting with a weapon ready to shoot. The officers must decide how they will handle the situation.

 Another part of the training includes wounded “victims” who are screaming or calling out for help as the officers search for the shooter. The noise and drama add to the stress of the scenario.

“They can’t stop to help those people,” Keen said, “because every minute the officer delays is a minute more that the shooter has to cause more harm.”

So the first response is to neutralize the shooter, then the officers will transition to triage for the injured. The fire department and ambulance personnel cannot come into the crime scene while an active shooter is loose, so the officers must carry out the victims.

Expansion of the training to include fire and emergency medical service personnel is a future goal, Keen said.

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.