“You just have to put everything out of mind and run toward the threat.”
ZACK McDONALD News Herald Reporter @PCNHzack
LYNN HAVEN — In the event of an active school shooter, on-campus deputies currently are the primary means of stopping a gunman.
“There’s no pepping yourself up, no calling home to let the family know you might not be coming home,” said Bay County Sheriff’s Office School Resource Deputy (SRD) John Sumerall. “You just have to put everything out of mind and run toward the threat.”
That was the main focus Tuesday during BCSO’s annual SRD active shooting training. One after the other, each of the county’s 18 resource deputies ran toward the cries of students and gunfire echoing down the hallways of A. Crawford Mosley High School, 501 Mosley Drive. The training regularly occurs at local middle and high schools while students are on vacation in order to equip officers with the experience and knowledge to respond to an active shooter, but since last month’s shooting in Parkland, BCSO is looking at expanding the training in frequency and participation.
“Any training we get toward bettering ourselves to protect these students is a win in my book,” Sumerall said.
As shell casings littered the ground, each officer charged into a classroom where the mock shooter held students at gunpoint. A quick exchange of gunfire with Simunition — non-lethal training ammunition — took place with the lone officers attempting to neutralize the threat while under fire. By the end, the officers often were spotted with red welts on their chests and arms from the training rounds.
“This puts deputies as close as possible to an active shooter situation without actually getting shot,” Sheriff Tommy Ford said. “The best predictor of how you react in that situation is in your training.”
BCSO has been conducting “reality-based active shooter trainings” for the past four years to prepare for shooters and to teach deputies the floor plans of schools. In the past couple years, Ford has invited local police departments and EMS crews to participate in order to provide training for every aspect of response in the emergencies. After a gunman killed 17 students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Feb. 14, though, Ford is looking at expanding the training programs to “full-scale exercises.”
That would include larger populations of student role players, the recently introduced “Hero 911 app” and armed school staff, a plan tentatively labeled “the guardian program.”
“Our main concern is eliminating the threat,” Ford said. “We need to consider everything at our disposal. … I wouldn’t want to take any resources off the table, and that includes the guardian program.”
Ford cited a recent poll conducted by Bay District Schools that showed 57 percent of teachers were in favor of allowing armed staff members and 40 percent wanted to volunteer as a demonstration of the demand for the program. He said the guardian program, if accepted by the state legislature, would include several layers of vetting and training. Ford added that the current proposal requires more firearms training than that of new law enforcement recruits.
He said even with an SRD on campus, valuable time passes as they respond to a situation while a trained staff member could be closer.
“We want to prevent these tragedies,” Ford said. “And if is does happen, eliminate the threat. … If you have vetted, trained personnel, it gives us a better chance of stopping that threat.”