In wake of Uvalde, Santa Fe sheriff's deputies prepare for active shooters

·5 min read

Aug. 6—The halls of Nina Otero Community School were void of students Friday morning, but not in the eyes of Joe Deedon.

Deedon led a group of local law enforcement officers down a wide corridor while carrying a blue, nonlethal Simunition Glock pistol. He bounced from wall to wall, positioning himself to have a wide range of vision across the hallway at all times. It's a delicate balance between looking back, shuffling forward, opening classroom doors and holding the gun on guard — keeping his eye out for an active shooter.

"I'm walking normal; I'm turning my body a little bit in case something happens behind me," he told the group.

A former law enforcement officer who responded in 2006 to the Platte Canyon High School hostage crisis in Colorado, Deedon is the founder of Tac*One Consulting. The company was recently contracted by the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office to provide active shooter training to deputies and officers in some other nearby agencies.

It's a type of training that Deedon's colleague, instructor Rich Krantz, said has increased in demand nationwide since 19 children and two adults were shot and killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in May.

A total of 376 officers responded to the scene in Uvalde and some entered the school building just three minutes after the gunman — but not one stopped him from killing 21 people and injuring 17 others. A recent 77-page investigation of the incident from the Texas House of Representatives suggests many officers disregarded their own active shooter training and that poor leadership and communication were to blame.

The shooting happened 23 years after the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado, during which SWAT officers took 47 minutes to enter the building after the two shooters opened fire. Twelve students and a teacher died.

It's an incident that weighs heavily on Deedon.

Columbine was the largest mass shooting in the U.S. at the time and triggered an overhaul in active shooter responses nationwide. Now, rather than securing a perimeter before moving on a subject, officers are trained to immediately follow the noise of guns.

But in numerous mass shootings that have followed, the plan for rapid response has disintegrated when officers encounter what Deedon and Krantz describe as their highest-stress moment on the job.

"We understand it happens to us," he said of officers freezing during shootings. "We talk about it all the time. But why is it still happening to us in this situation?"

During a lecture portion of Friday's training, Deedon shared some of his own views, saying stories of police shootings that result in criminal charges for officers, as well as arguments over police funding, could cause officers to hesitate entering an active shooter situation and killing the gunman if necessary.

"Do you guys think that affects you?" he said. "Absolutely."

In Friday's training, Deedon and Krantz were teaching each deputy to be a "lone wolf" responder in an active shooting situation. The class was specifically developed for "really rural" law enforcement officers in Wyoming, Deedon said.

The skills — which include techniques for moving around a large building while armed in order to locate and halt a shooter — apply to less-populated places in Santa Fe County, like Pojoaque, he added.

The sheriff's office contracted with Tac*One at a cost of $18,750 for 75 deputes, said Maj. Gabriel Gonzales. The trainings are being conducted in portions at different Santa Fe County school district sites.

The consulting firm, based in Colorado, offers other tactical training for law enforcement and self-defense concealment training for civilians, according to its website.

The daylong active shooter training consists of a lecture and "dry" shooter training runs guided by Krantz and Deedon that lead up to a larger scenario simulating what it's like to have an actual shooter on campus.

To make the simulation more accurate, paid participants agreed to play the roles of students, including three from Santa Fe High School.

The three — whose parents are in law enforcement — waited in a classroom during a brief lunch break Friday.

Even though they all grew up doing safety drills at school, the Uvalde shooting was a sad reminder that shootings can happen anywhere, they agreed.

"I felt really bad for the parents," said Ailey Cassidy-Jones, 16. "I haven't read a lot of articles on it, but some people were saying the cops didn't do enough for the kids. So I feel like they need to know more to do better."

Santa Fe County Sheriff's Deputy Marilyn Rodriguez said she's received active shooter training before during her academy training in 2010 and again when she worked with the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office.

"It's interesting to have an outside instructor from another state who has real-life experience with active shooters," Rodriguez said Friday.

Rodriguez said the training helped her feel more prepared, but she still has reservations about responding to active shooter situations.

"It's good to be prepared, but I do think staffing shortages in our departments play a significant role in our ability to have a stronger response in these types of situations," she said. "So it is a little frightening."

Deedon worked to assuage some fears by giving officers examples of tactical moves they may need to make in the event of an active shooter on a school campus — even if it means damaging county property to save lives by ramming a squad car into a building to distract a gunman.

"There's no rules here. There's no procedure," Deedon told the officers at one point. "Do what you got to do."