Marco police train for ‘active shooter’ scenarios

Steve Stefanides
  • Blanks and other training rounds simulated realism, while loudspeakers blared a constant barrage of screams and shouts for help from ‘casualties’

The term “active shooter” is not a new one for law enforcement.

However, in the past few years the term has been heard more often because of the shootings at Columbine, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, San Bernardino and all too many other communities.

An active shooter event can be categorized in a number of ways, said Sergeant Nick Ojanovac of the Marco police department.

Paul Keys and Josh Ferris of the Marco police department participate in one of the "active shooter" training scenarios at a local school.

“Major events such as Paris or San Bernardino always jump out to the forefront, but they can also be as small as a single individual engaged in a domestic disturbance,” Ojanovac said.

“Regardless (of type or size), we have to train our personnel to take the responsible actions to ensure the public is safe and we minimize the risk,” said Brad Gallagher, one of the instructors who recently came in to help run several training scenarios for officers on the island.

Gallagher, along with officers Matt Doyle and Buddy Bonollo are with the Naples P.D. and are certified instructors with extensive SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) training.

A recent NYPD study showed that a vast majority (98 percent) of incidents involve only one shooter. Not all of these incidents involve terrorism, but instead may be related to domestic disputes, a robbery gone bad, barricaded subjects or mentally unstable people seeking to do harm to themselves or others.

“In all these cases we have to be prepared and trained to protect the general public from any threat that may arise. Therefore we must train and be proficient in the most up to date tactics that have been developed,” said MIPD Chief Al Schettino.

Tactics have evolved

Prior to Columbine, arriving officers would set up a perimeter and await the arrival of special teams trained to enter a building and search and neutralize any threats.

After Columbine, the training utilized a “diamond formation,” where the first 4 officers would enter and sweep the building to assist civilians, evacuating and treating as they went while searching for the perpetrator(s).

Fast forward to today, and the first law enforcement officer on the scene is being trained to enter and engage if shots are being fired.

“Marco Island is as exposed to these types of incidents as any other community throughout the nation,” said Ojanovac. “We think of ourselves as that sleepy little community, which for the most part we are. However, we must be prepared with the proper training to deal with this or any other challenge that may face an officer.”

“This was very realistic with all the noise, the sounds of gun shots and the unexpected nature of where the threat might come from; it was excellent,” said Sergeant Mike Vogel, who participated in the exercises.

Blanks and other training rounds simulated realism, while loudspeakers blared a constant barrage of screams and shouts for help from “casualties.”

Schettino said the idea behind the exercises was to step up training for the department, and in turn provide the public with the “highest standards of excellence.”