Fake victims, firearms help police train for shootings in public places
"Pop! Pop! Pop!'
The sound of rapid gunfire echoed through the hallway as a school shooting played out at Lakeridge High School last week.
Screaming students ran through the school to seek shelter. Others lay on the ground, moaning and clutching injured body parts as an armed gunman stood over hostages nearby.
In the nick of time, a group of fast-moving police officers found the threat and brought his shooting spree to an end.
The shooter, Richie Casem, rose from the ground and grinned at the paint splotches covering his coat.
'That's one no nonsense team!' he said with a laugh.
If this were real life, each color would represent a bullet hole - and Casem knows he'd surely be a dead man.
But to everyone's relief, the guns and pipe bombs scattered across the floor were as fake as the chaos they caused.
With the help of volunteer actors and paintball-style firearms, Lake Oswego Police used various scenarios to teach officers how to respond to gunmen in a school, shopping mall, workplace or other crowded areas.
The style of training is simply an unfortunate necessity of modern day society, said LOPD Lt. Darryl Wrisley.
After the Columbine High School shootings in 1999, response tactics evolved from negotiation to direct confrontation. In response, simulated police training methods became commonplace across the country.
'We train for the worst and plan for the best,' Wrisley said.
All of the schools in the Lake Oswego School District have lock-down plans in case of an emergency and school administrators keep in close contact with the LOPD. Still, LOPD officials believe its important to take every precaution necessary to physically and mentally prepare their officers.
'Everything we do is to protect the community. All of this training is for them,' Wrisley said.
In the Lake Oswego area, 'active shooter training' is held annually, typically in a school left empty during an extended break. Last year, police gathered at West Linn High School. This year, Lakeridge administrators agreed to open the school for police use only.
'(A school) makes sense, because that's where the major shootings have been,' Wrisley explained.
The five-day training session at Lakeridge drew officers from the Lake Oswego, Sandy, Gladstone and North Plains police departments. Part of the day is spent in a classroom, but the final four hours requires hands-on work.
In each scenario, a group of officers is expected to enter the designated dangerous area together - as they would in real life - and ignore distractions long enough to find clues that will lead them to the gunman.
In each of the five set-ups, there could be one shooter or multiple shooters, injured students or worse. Officers must be open to encounter any type of situation - including the unimaginable.
'Columbine was in an upscale community and even though we try to stereotype (shooters) … each time they're different,' Wrisley pointed out.
Trainers outfitted student actors - including some of their own children - with earplugs, goggles and headgear for protection. North Plains officer/trainer Matthew Brady encouraged kids to scream at the officers, play 'dead' and run from the shooter.
'To scream constantly is unrealistic, but it's kind of fun to pretend it's really happening,' said Mike Abbate, a Lakeridge drama student who volunteered his time to help.
'It seemed like an idea that sounded a lot of fun,' he added.
Each 'gunman' and officer carries a 'sim gun,' a weapon that feels like a normal gun but fires harmless paint pellets. The 'bullets' explode on its target to mark the hit, but wash out with soap and water.
Will Wishar, a senior at Glencoe High School in Hillsboro, agreed to act as a gunman as a way to prepare for a future career as a cop. His eagerness to help also pleased his girlfriend's father, LOPD Officer Mike Brady.
Wearing a vest and other gear to protect himself, Wishar shot off his gun a few times and took off at a sprint through the foreign language wing. Police soon followed.
During one scenario, an armed man ran into the women's bathroom as wounded students lay scattered in the lounge outside.
'We're bleeding out here!' cried one student. 'Please help us! We're dying!' yelled another.
A group of helmet-clad police arrived at the scene and cautiously followed students' gestures to the bathroom. A few officers stood guard outside while the others moved to stop the shooter. The sound of gunfire rang out and students covered their ears.
'Someone really got it good in there!,' said LOPD Capt. Don Forman with a wide grin.
This time, it was only a game. After the shooter emerged, the students and officers worked together to wipe off the neon pink paint splattered across the bathroom walls.