Bluffton PD takes over middle school to train for rampage shooter

astice@islandpacket.comApril 9, 2013 

S.C. Law Enforcement Division Agent Wayne Freeman crouched behind a car and shouted to the police officers gathered on the other side of the Bluffton Middle School parking lot.

"Come and get me," he said.

In teams, officers began ducking and weaving through the vehicles, calling out for cover as they moved. Clutching bright, orange handguns filled with simulation bullets, they yelled, "Bang!" instead of firing as they took aim at Freeman, who pretended to pick them off one by one as they approached.

Freeman, an Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training instructor, was playing the part of an "active shooter." Bluffton police officers and members of other area agencies gathered after school Tuesday for the course, designed to train them to respond to a killer targeting people at random."The philosophy of the training today is to equip our officers to be able to immediately intervene and to be able to save the maximum amount of lives they possibly can," said Bluffton police Officer Henry Criss, a co-instructor for the course.

The best way to do that, Criss said, is by stopping the threat as soon as possible. Seconds could mean lives. The ALERRT course, developed by Texas State University, trains all officers -- including detectives, school resources officers and police on road patrol -- how to respond to a shooting rampage before a SWAT team arrives.

The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., prompted many law enforcement agencies around the country to evaluate how they would respond to a similar crisis. The ALERRT Center reports more demand for its courses than it can meet.

Bluffton Police Chief Joey Reynolds also wanted his officers to learn tactics beyond the classroom training they had already received. The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office has long had active-shooter training and instructors on staff, Sheriff P.J. Tanner has said. At the Bluffton Police Department, Criss will serve as a certified active-shooter instructor for new employees, according to Reynolds.

Members of the Beaufort and Port Royal police departments also attended Tuesday's training. During an active-shooter event, many different departments would have to work together, Reynolds said.

Beaufort County School District protective services coordinator Chris Barrow said the exercise -- which covered how to enter a building, what equipment to carry and how to deal with explosives -- adds to the drills the district already has in place.

"It pays huge dividends," Barrow said. "We're very happy police are using the building, and completely supportive of it."

The police department will take over H.E. McCracken Middle School next, with another live training April 25. 

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