Palm Beach Police 'in a comfortable place' with active shooter training methods

·4 min read

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Over two days last week, Palm Beach's police department conducted a series of active-shooter trainings at Palm Beach Public School.

Coming just weeks after mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas that left 31 people dead, the trainings emphasized proper police response to active shooter threats, department spokesman Capt. William Rothrock said.

"We try to be as prepared as possible for any possible tragedy," Rothrock said Friday, the second day of training. Officers also trained on June 13.

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Active shooter training is a routine part of police work,  and the town's 71 sworn officers and employees are required to complete it, Rothrock said.

Trainings also are conducted at religious institutions throughout town and at buildings and homes scheduled for demolition that owners offer for the department's use.

Schools are typically used when students are on breaks, while other locations are more flexible, Rothrock said.

Members of the Palm Beach Police Department are required to complete active shooter training, such as this one on Friday.
Members of the Palm Beach Police Department are required to complete active shooter training, such as this one on Friday.

The department also conducts joint force-on-force training with the town's Fire-Rescue Department. This type of training is scenario-based and uses role players and simulated ammunition.

"We always get something in at least once or twice a year," Rothrock said. "We may have active shooter trainings at the public school. We may have active shooter trainings at the (Palm Beach) Day Academy. We'll also run through active shooter instruction and drills at the station, utilizing our range downstairs. Periodically, we'll do trainings at religious institutions in town, including some of the synagogues.

"It's fairly regular for us. Some years we might have them more, some years we might have them less. It just depends on scheduling."

Active shooter training sessions vary in size and scope, Rothrock said.

Some of the trainings are single-officer response drills, in which officers must respond to a mock call.

Police Department officials take part in active shooting training Friday at Palm Beach Public School.
Police Department officials take part in active shooting training Friday at Palm Beach Public School.

Once at the scene, they are run through a variety of scenarios.

"You may be on patrol, and you may get called to an active shooter threat," Rothrock said. "The trainings are geared toward what you need to do with the equipment that you have with you."

Other drills are conducted with two officers, while additional trainings are run with the department's tactical response team. Those trainings include from five to 10 officers, and may involve situations in which a suspect is barricaded.

The department also conducts force-on-force training, which utilizes non-lethal training ammunition.

This type of training is designed to give officers the sense that they may get shot, and they must try and fight through that, Rothrock said.

"You're in the fight until you can't fight anymore," he said.

Palm Beach Police officer Anducchi Augustin has his weapon drawn in active shooter training Friday at Palm Beach Public School.
Palm Beach Police officer Anducchi Augustin has his weapon drawn in active shooter training Friday at Palm Beach Public School.

Two years ago, the department added virtual reality technology to help train officers. A $300,000 donation from the Palm Beach Police and Fire Foundation paid for a VirTra 300 training simulator at the South Fire Rescue station on South Ocean Boulevard.

The simulator allows the instructor operating the software to portray 284 scenarios that officers could face in real life. VirTra also lets instructors upload locations from their own cities to re-create streets and places familiar to officers.

"We're running the VirTra system on a regular basis throughout the year," Rothrock said. "It has some active shooter scenarios in there."

If an active shooter incident were to occur within the town, officers would utilize their training to secure the scene as quickly as possible and tend to the injured, Rothrock said.

Law enforcement officials in Uvalde have been criticized for not confronting the heavily armed shooter at Robb Elementary for more than an hour.

Palm Beach Police officer Steven Quinn practices putting a tourniquet on a victim Friday during active shooter training at Palm Beach Public School.
Palm Beach Police officer Steven Quinn practices putting a tourniquet on a victim Friday during active shooter training at Palm Beach Public School.

"Our goal is to end the threat as quickly as possible," Rothrock said. "You may have a single-officer response, and we try to ingrain into the officer that it's not the case that you're waiting for backup any more. If you're the first person on the scene, you're going to go in and try to end that threat to save as many lives as possible. That's really the biggest thing we're trying to get out of it."

Active shooter training has evolved in the 23 years since two teenage gunmen killed 12 students and one teacher at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, Rothrock said.

Law enforcement agencies around the country began to develop new ways to train officers for active shooter incidents, and subsequent school shootings have reinforced and revolutionized those training methods, he added.

"After Columbine, departments changed a lot of their response and philosophy," Rothrock said. "There were some horrible reminders in the interim — after Sandy Hook, and then the most recent tragedy. So it's something we have been doing for a long time, and tactical training has evolved over that time. But we are in a comfortable place as far as modern response for active shooters."

The department will conduct trainings next month at Palm Beach Day Academy.

Jodie Wagner is a journalist at the Palm Beach Daily News, part of the USA TODAY Florida Network. You can reach her at jwagner@pbdailynews.comHelp support our journalism. Subscribe today.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Daily News: Palm Beach Police conduct active shooter training at island school