SALISBURY — Sheriffs in both Worcester and Wicomico counties are promising more training for officers and a focus on school violence response after the shooting deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Wicomico County Sheriff Mike Lewis said this week that after learning of the shooting he began meeting with counterparts at the local level, such as Salisbury Police Chief Barbara Duncan, to talk about law enforcement’s response in the event that a school shooting occurred locally. The most important aspect should such a tragedy happen in Wicomico, said Lewis, is an immediate and effective police response to minimize the damage a shooter or shooters can inflict.
“We are going to be training in the next few weeks with the SERT team, which is the Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team and the Salisbury City SWAT team or tactical team,” Lewis said.
While specialized response teams have always trained extensively for violent situations, Lewis explained that after Connecticut his officers will take a special focus on responding to schools. They will go so far as to use a school building in training exercises scheduled for January.
“We are actually going to have a school building in which to train,” he said. “We’re going to experience some live fire situations so these deputies and these police officers can train under stress.”
Worcester County Sheriff Reggie Mason also said that his department and its municipal equivalents around the county will be focusing on new training with a special focus on school violence confrontation.
“There are some things there that we’re going to need to do for better security,” he said. “Those are things we’re going to have to discuss.”
Mason explained that the sensitive nature of some of the training kept him from disclosing specifics. However, he confirmed that there will be additional classes for officers in the coming months.
One program in particular, called “Active Shooter,” will play a part in sharpening law enforcement for school responses. Two Worcester deputies will be sent to train in “Active Shooter” and then will share that training with other county and municipal officers. “Active Shooter” teaches first responding officers to immediately engage a shooter instead of waiting for back-up to arrive
According to Lewis, Wicomico follows a similar doctrine which makes it just as important that regular deputies are well-trained as the specialty teams since it’s these officers who are always the first responders. In the case of a school shooting, those deputies will enter the school immediately to engage the shooter before SERT or SWAT teams arrive.
“The first responder, when he gets there, he doesn’t have to wait for a SWAT team or anything. He can take the person down,” Mason said.
But even with every precaution that can be put in place, Lewis said that school shootings are dangers that he believes can’t realistically be totally eradicated. As long as there are “evil people out there determined to bring harm to innocents,” he claimed that tragedies like the one in Connecticut will be a sad but unavoidable fact of life.
“Unfortunately the unthinkable occurred this week, and it’s not only the unthinkable but it’s the inevitable …,” Lewis said. “Unfortunately we’ll never be able to fully stop this. I don’t care what we do. We can’t legislate our way out of this problem. We can’t do it by legislating new laws governing the possession and use of firearms. It’s never going to happen.”
But even if he doesn’t expect legislation to serve as a perfect shield, Lewis promised that his teams and each of his individual deputies will be fully trained and prepared to immediately confront violence in schools in the hopes of preventing or mitigating damage, should the unthinkable occur on the Eastern Shore.
According to Mason, his hope is to have officers in every school to serve as a preventative measure.
“When you do something you want to do it right,” he said. “You don’t want to put a Band-Aid on a project as big as this … My thing would be, if you’re going to do it right, you need to put a deputy in every school.”
There would be a significant initial cost to such a program, Mason admitted, though he predicted that expenses would drop after the first year once all of the training and infrastructure is in place. Before the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Mason said that such a program would likely have only focused on high schools, but current events have parents concerned over the security of every school.
“You can’t just pick certain schools. You’ve got to do them all,” he said.
Both Mason and Lewis expect increased police patrols to visit schools frequently in the next few weeks or months so that even if officers aren’t directly stationed in the buildings their presence will still be felt.
Co-operation between towns, counties, and the state is higher now than ever, added Mason, with officers from neighboring municipalities asked to patrol by schools that aren’t directly in their jurisdictions whenever they have the time.