Tribe hosts active shooter training for local police departments
By Ron Karten
Smoke Signals staff writer
Wednesday and Thursday, Jan. 2-3, would not have been good days to attempt a heist at the former Grand Ronde Middle School.
Some 30 police officers from state, county and local departments were running through the building with 40 caliber pistols, shotguns and 223 ARs in hand.
The guns were simulated weapons, using soap-marking cartridges, but they looked realistic and fired like the real things. It was police and shooters on steroids as law enforcement converged on the former school to practice effective responses in the event of an actual school shooting.
They enlisted the help of Grand Ronde schoolchildren and many brought their own children to help the effort.
“They enjoyed it and learned quite a bit,” said Grand Ronde Police Department Sgt. Jake McKnight, the Tribe’s first police officer, and one of those who participated in the exercise. He brought four of his children and one of their friends: Lucas McKnight, 14; Trey Lindekugel, 15; Jerron Lindekugel and Jalyssa Lindekugel, both 11; and friend Manny Spinks, 15.
“That was one of the biggest things for role players, knowing what you have to do and what the cops are going to do. That’s the reason I wanted my kids in it. They’re not going to do these kinds of exercises at school,” McKnight said.
During exercises, children lined up along a bank of lockers, sat against a wall and hid behind a door. Some were told to run this way or that as groups of four-person police teams moved past them diamond-style, or in a Y, with guns pointed and ready, checking each door as they passed it.
Some children had to sit still and stay down and some had to scream as if their lives depended on it.
Police teams stormed the building facing a number of different possible threats.
Police participants learned during one raid that they focused too much on the shooter. With the apparent shooter down roughly in the middle of the room, another role player down by one wall and a child hidden behind the door, four officers with their guns pointed at a downed shooter left many potential threats uncontrolled.
Group after group of law enforcement personnel completed the exercise with police on opposite sides of a downed shooter, meaning that if the shooter moved and one officer had to shoot, another officer was in the line of a potential ricocheted bullet.
Teams were told again and again to grab a child and find out where the active shooter(s) were and soon caught on to how valuable small eyewitnesses can be.
Different scenarios included a shooter in one room, a shooter in two rooms, hostages and blackouts. The situations were devised and overseen by Mike Herbes, a state trainer from the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training.
Herbes also reviewed how the raids went.
“You want to dominate, eliminate and then what?” Herbes asked a group. “Control,” he said, answering himself. “You want to control the room and that means all the people in it.”
Before the raids, Herbes gave participating officers a couple of hours of PowerPoint descriptions that broke the process down into bites, including proper mindset, locating the shooting, room combat, common formations and room clearing.
Police learned to take on known dangers first while covering themselves and their team members as they went by open doors. To simulate the sound of shooting, participants smacked blocks of wood together.
Police learned whom to shoot by looking for hands holding weapons. Sometimes cell phones in hands also look like weapons so Herbes stressed that a little study of photographs of individuals holding different objects would help. A hand holding a gun doesn’t really look like a hand holding a cell phone or texting, indicating that even when time is vital, it pays to study details.
Oregon State Police developed this program in the late 1990s in response to the 1998 Thurston High School shooting in Springfield, and the agency has been training local police forces in the techniques ever since. With the recent shooting of schoolchildren in a Newtown, Conn., elementary school, the training took on even more timeliness and importance.
Statistically, not many mass murderers live long enough for the police to confront them because they often kill themselves when the police arrive.
On hand for the practice sessions was Senior Trooper Kendra Raiser, a former SWAT team negotiator for Oregon State Police.
“Everybody should have the experience of working on a SWAT team,” Raiser said. They practice in a variety of situations once a month, she added.
Also on hand was State Trooper Jess Oliver, a SWAT team member who helped clear the lower level of Clackamas Town Center during the December shooting that killed two people. That work, he said, unfolded just as police teams had practiced.
“You’re getting a taste of what it’s really like to be engaged,” said Detective Josh Calef of the Dallas Police Department, who was participating in his second active shooter exercise. “It’s invaluable, though chances are we’ll never even have this happen.”
Despite the unlikelihood, “Being in denial that it could happen makes it easier to happen,” said Terry Miller, Training Coordinator for Oregon State Police.
This preparedness is coming at a cost, Miller added. “For years, we’ve told them to ‘be safe, go home safe,’ but now we’ve seen that waiting for a SWAT team can be costly. The faster we confront the shooter, the more lives we save. Guys are saying, ‘This is way more risk than we signed on for.’ ”
Also on hand at the training was Spirit Mountain Casino Security Director Joann Mercier, who has long worked with local police and fire, even training a fire brigade of immediate responders at the casino who handle emergency crises until state, county or local first responders arrive.
“We are here to try to help the situation until law enforcement gets here, and then to help them,” said Mercier.
Grand Ronde’s new Tribal police are “in the process now of getting a plan together” with the casino’s security detail, said McKnight, who used a semi-automatic simulated weapon during the exercises.
The Tribe’s new police chief, Al LaChance, used a simulated hand gun during the exercises.
“I learned a couple new techniques for doing a dynamic entry into a room, the new style of active shooter,” LaChance said.
He noted that the value he sees in the exercise is “the ability to train with other agencies from our area that we’ll be responding with in the event of an incident, actually working with them, gives us all a better understanding of our roles and responsibilities should we have to respond. This is something that needs to be done bi-annually or, at the very least, annually.
“Hosting the event on Tribal property was a huge plus for us gaining respect in the law enforcement community. I hope to do more of that in the future.”
For McKnight, the value of the exercise was “huge.”
“What it does is it puts tools in our toolbox, so we’ll know how to react in a situation,” McKnight said.
LaChance also thanked all of the Tribal members and children who participated as role players and made the training that much more realistic.
Among them were Kailiyah Krehbiel, Kaleb Reid, Dyami Eastman, Nick Colton, Julius RoanEagle, Dakota Ross and Marcel Allen. Education Department staff members Cultural Education Specialist Travis Mercier, High School Lead Chris Bailey, Middle School Lead Matt Zimbrick and College Intern Tahnae Baker also participated.
Parent Dustin Ross volunteered as well.
Officers all the way up to police chiefs participated from Monmouth, Independence, Dallas, Polk County, Oregon State Police and the Grand Ronde Police Department.