Police officers from seven local organizations and municipalities joined state troopers Tuesday to continue a three-day instructor development course at Greater Johnstown High School. The officers participated in drills designed to teach police response to an “active shooter” situation.
The National Tactical Officers Association, based out of Doylestown, organized the training drills the officers ran Tuesday. The organization keeps on top of modern equipment, techniques and training and standardizes that information for local police outfits.
It employs instructors all around the U.S., like adjunct instructor Don Alwes, a 33-year police officer from Kentucky, who supervised the Johnstown seminar.
“We find different levels of experience as we go around the country,” Alwes said. “Some officers are really keeping up on this trend and the training. Others are not so much up to speed.”
Officers from Johnstown, West Hills, Richland, Stonycreek Township, Cambria Township, Indiana Borough and the Cambria County Special Emergency Response Team spent Monday in lecture classes pertaining to tactical theory and technique. On Tuesday, they put their notes to use in hands-on exercises. Today, the participants will “scrimmage,” as Alwes put it, running planned scenarios and firing nonlethal training rounds.
As instructors for their local departments, the course participants will take what’s learned from the exercises back to their fellow officers.
“It’s excellent training,” said Erin Kabler, a Johnstown patrolman who helped bring NTOA to the city through a grant from the Cambria County Emergency Management Agency.
“These instructors are top-notch. They’ve been all over the world,” he said. “We’re drawing from all their experience and things they’ve done, things they’ve seen and actual action reports.”
Alwes said NTOA training stresses response time as one of the most important factors in a crisis. He said statistically, police are only arriving on-scene when civilian deaths are happening about 50 percent of the time.
“The whole paradigm changed. Up until the late-’90s – in fact, 1999 – the local officers would surround the situation and isolate it, then call a SWAT team,” Alwes said. “After Columbine, everyone understood you can’t wait for a SWAT team. A SWAT team is at least an hour away and people are dying.”
In 2007, NTOA began developing drills around four-man response squads, which are placed in various tactical situations. On Tuesday, the officers practiced proper room entry techniques, moving through hallways, up and down staircases and “bounding” across wide-open spaces, like the high school’s parking lot.
“Now we’ve evolved to where we’re telling officers ‘it’s your decision,’ ” Alwes said.
“(If) there’s somebody in that building hurting people (and) you’re capable of stopping it, you may go by yourself, you may decide to wait for one more officer.
“Now, we’re empowering officers to make those decisions on the fly.”
Greater Johnstown School District usually employs three school resource officers, according to the high school’s safety coordinator, Assistant Principal Michael Dadey. They keep an eye on the grounds and interact with students as fixed law enforcement representatives in the district.
Dadey said their involvement is part of the district’s well-established relationship with Johnstown police.
“We want to continue to forge that relationship. We know it’s important to train, we know it’s important to keep educated, and that’s why we’re more than happy to open up our facility,” he said. “Not only to get to train, but also get to know our schools a little more.”
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