Bay County law enforcement trains for active shooter cases
PANAMA CITY — Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland and Uvalde.
These are schools in cities that immediately bring to mind the horrendous deaths of innocents, places where children and teachers were killed by someone with a gun and a grudge.
“We’ve got two things against us: the bad guy and time,” Lt. James Vestal told a group of about 15 deputies and officers gathered Tuesday afternoon in the training center behind the sheriff’s office on State 77.
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“We’ve gotta find out the threat, we’ve gotta address the threat and we gotta go in,” he said.
Vestal is presenting the month-long Active Shooter Incident Management Training to more than 200 deputies and about 20 Springfield Police Department officers.
The training started Monday with a focus on maps, situations and the roles and responsibilities of responding law enforcement officers, said Sheriff Tommy Ford. Deputies will follow up in July with live, simulated training inside Arnold High School in Panama City Beach.
“The training allows us to approach any critical incident in a very organized fashion,” Ford said, because should such an incident occur, “We’re going to have 100 police officers from everywhere show up.”
The sheriff’s office has offered the training for three years, involving other police departments, fire departments and emergency medical services.
“It gives me a lot of comfort in knowing our supervisors have the training to deal with a situation like this,” Ford said.
He called the school shooting in Parkland “a watershed event for me,” adding that “I think we are much better prepared to handle those types of things (now).”
On Feb. 14, 2018, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz killed 17 and injured another 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
According to a Washington Post article dated Dec. 12, 2018, deputies assigned to go into the building during the shooting failed to do so, the school system was accused of keeping information from the public and even the FBI acknowledged wrongdoing by failing to act on a tip weeks before.
Ford said law enforcement has learned a lot from that mass killing as well as other school shootings since then, and “We’ll learn a lot about (better ways to address situations like) Uvalde.”
Salvador Ramos, 18, killed 19 children and two adults at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24. According to the Texas Tribune, it was the deadliest shooting at a public school in the state’s history.
“I can look back at Columbine and their (law enforcement) techniques and it was ‘set up a perimeter and call for SWAT.’ Now we ‘make contact and cover.’ I think we evolved every time after a school shooting happened,” Ford said.
He pointed out that the gunman in Uvalde had barricaded himself inside the school.
The sheriff said that here in Bay County, “All of our teams have shields and entry tools.”
And, he said, “We have to be reiterating with (law enforcement) that they have to go in and find the shooter.”
Ford plans to continue his department’s active shooter training.
“We need to continue to think of and implement ways to improve our response,” he said. “Keeping our kids safe is our No. 1 priority.”