Rapid Response teams train for the worse

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 27, 2007

GASTON – An armed suspect has entered a school.

Shots ring out and echo down the long hallways.

Students and staff are frozen in their tracks. Some may be held hostage at gunpoint or, in the worse case scenario, lying wounded or killed.

Sounds all too eerily familiar, doesn’t it?

In a page torn straight from recent headlines, nine law enforcement agencies gathered Thursday at the old Gaston Middle School for specialized training in the Rapid Deployment Response Program (RDRP), a national effort born in 1999 after the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado.

Local RDRP instructors John Young (Jackson Police Chief) and Sgt. Andy Bryant of the Roanoke Rapids Police Department drilled the 18 program participants of the fine points of locating and confronting a hostile subject within the confines of a school environment.

While the halls and classrooms of the old middle school in Gaston are now void of students and staff, the numerous rooms, offices and closets located within the building presented the trainees with many challenges.

In what can best be described as a precision ballet with weapons, the trainees, working in four-person teams, inch their way down the long hallways. At each doorway or adjoining hallway, the group pauses to perform a visual sweep of those areas before moving forward. If a particular room peaks their interest (through sound, visual contact or the strong smell of gunpowder), the group used their training on how to property enter and “sweep” the room.

Shots (blanks, no live ammunition was used) were fired periodically during the drill. At one point after a “shot” was heard, Young said three members of the training group he was observing instinctively dropped to their knees.

“That would be the initial reaction of any human being,” Young said. “Since the days of the caveman, we’ve been taught self-preservation, but it’s a bit different when you’re part of an armed, four-person team searching for a bad guy. Our job is to remain together as a group and go find the gun (the shooter).”

In another part of the drill, Sgt. Bryant encouraged the use of the “slice the pie” routine. He demonstrated how an officer, with his or her weapon drawn and aimed, should slowly step outwards and look, repeating this effort when confronted with a blind corner.

“It’s dangerous going into a building you know nothing about the layout of, especially a school building,” Sgt. Bryant said.

Meanwhile, Young was teaching another group that precise footwork and shooting position are critical elements.

“Use the stance you use at the firing range,” Young told the trainees. “You are more relaxed and comfortable in that position plus you are already in your natural shooting position in case you need to fire your weapon.”

According to Young and Bryant, RDRP empowers, trains and equips first responding patrol officers to instantly react to potential armed individual(s) by establishing swift contact with the perceived threat. When possible, making contact should be accomplished prior to the armed individual(s) becoming active shooters. The goal is to proactively minimize injury and death to innocent people (and the lawmen as well) by positioning ballistically protected officers in close proximity with the threat, so that accurate application of deadly force can be expeditiously applied, if necessary.

Both men said the drill was not in response to the April 16 shootings at Virginia Tech. It’s part of BLET (Basic Law Enforcement Training), a 16-week course offered at Halifax Community College in Weldon. As part of their 35 separate blocks of instruction, BLET students are required to complete the RDRP training.

“This lets the public know that we are proactive in our training,” Young said. “I was pleased with the efforts of our trainees. Having an actual school setting to use in the training was extremely beneficial. Our thanks to Northampton County Public School officials and the Board of Education for allowing us to use this facility.”

Those taking part in the training were officers with the Sheriff’s offices in Halifax, Northampton, Hertford, Gates and Warren counties as well as the Murfreesboro, Weldon and Roanoke Rapids police departments.