Teaming up for the worst

(Jeff Moberg photos) Officers from Wyoming Highway Patrol, Sundance Police Department and the Crook County Sheriffs Office work through a simulated mass-shooting exercise on Tuesday morning.
(Jeff Moberg photos) Officers from Wyoming Highway Patrol, Sundance Police Department and the Crook County Sheriffs Office work through a simulated mass-shooting exercise on Tuesday morning.

County law enforcement trains for a seamless response to an active shooter situation

By Sarah Pridgeon

Peace officers from around the area trained together last week to respond to an active shooter situation within the schools. The intention, says Trooper Colton Lenz of Highway Patrol, is to ensure a seamless response to a violent encounter, no matter what combination of law enforcement agencies answer the call.

“We see the active shooters around the nation and we in Crook County want to make sure our kids and our teachers can rely on us for a quick and tactical response – and an effective response,” says Sheriff Jeff Hodge.

“We live just by a big city going down the interstate, we are not immune to these types of situations, so I want to make sure our Crook County law enforcement are working as a team to either stop a situation or maybe prevent it.”

WHP Trooper Colton Lenz discusses possible scenarios during the recent joint training exercise.
WHP Trooper Colton Lenz discusses possible scenarios during the recent joint training exercise.

The goal, Lenz explains, is to ensure that all law enforcement agencies work together as one, using the same tactics and able to anticipate one another’s actions.

“Troopers are trained differently compared to the county units, everybody is going to have their different training and we’re trying to make sure that all our tactics as far as a rapid response to this type of event are the same, that we can function together even though we are from these different backgrounds and training,” he says.

“We are some of the highest trained officers in the state so we like to help in any way that we can as far as getting smaller departments like the Crook County Sheriff’s Office and the Sundance Police Department all on the same page on what are the best and most modern tactics to take care of a situation like this.”

Contrary to popular belief, Lenz continues, joint training is not a common thing between the various law enforcement agencies in the county.

“Realistically, we don’t get many opportunities where we can come together and train. The Sheriff’s Office train by themselves, the P.D. train by themselves and we do our training,” he explains.

“It’s very rare that we can get all these different officers from all these different agencies to come together and work together and set aside those differences in tactics and find what’s the best way to go about something like this.”

The Immediate Action Rapid Deployment training was held on Tuesday at Sundance High School, prepared and led by Lenz and Officer Todd Leimser and involving 16 officers over the course of the day. It will later be repeated for Hulett and Moorcroft law enforcement, says Lenz, as well as for Game & Fish and Highway Patrol and for other counties across the state.

Training together is important, says the sheriff, because it’s unlikely that a single agency would respond to the call should a violent situation occur.

“We want to make sure all law enforcement agencies are trained the same. We need to know how each officer is going to react, how they’re going to move through the schools,” he continues.

To ensure the training is as realistic as possible, water-soluble paint munitions are used to simulate the stress levels of a real active shooter event and affect officers’ sensory systems.

“It’s as close to live training as you’re going to get,” Hodge says.

“They actually make the sound of a gun. We obviously wear head and eye protection, but when they hit you they draw blood and leave welts, so obviously you do not want to get hit with them.”

For the Sheriff’s Office, says Hodge, the training is the next step in an effort to prepare the whole county to deal with a violent encounter.

“It’s in combination with the ALICE training, which was part of the first steps to it. This step is for law enforcement to train inside of the school to be activated for an active shooter and address a violent encounter,” Hodge says.

As another step in the county’s preparation to deal with a violent situation, Sheriff Hodge intends to continue the training into the future.

“The ultimate goal is to do live exercises with the schools – the administrators, officers, everybody involved,” he says.

“They have ALICE to rely on, but they should be able to rely on us to respond to an active shooter or a violent encounter and handle the situation as best we can.”

ALICE training formed the first stage of the preparations, introducing a program that aims to increase a person’s odds of survival in the event of a violent encounter at school or in the workplace. The acronym stands for: Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate.

Classes have been held since last year in schools and businesses around the county, giving participants the opportunity to learn new skills and put them into practice in a simulated active shooter event.

“We are continuing ALICE training, we have some classes that will be going on this fall with some different groups,” says Hodge.

“Anybody who wants the ALICE training – any businesses or organizations – we’re more than happy to come and do the training free of charge.”

Classes will also be available for community members. Anyone who wishes to join a currently scheduled class for a business or organization may also contact the Sheriff’s Office to see if they can take part.