Piedmont police officers — armed with pellet guns — swarmed a vacant industrial building in Richmond earlier this month, searching for an "active shooter," a gunman firing at unarmed citizens.
It was realistic role play, two days of intense training designed to teach local law enforcement officers how to cope with a school shooting or similar incident.
In small groups, the officers searched the nooks and crannies of a now-vacant Bayer Pharmaceuticals facility as role players acted the parts of suspects and citizens in a half dozen scenarios.
"Sometimes it was one shooter, sometimes you don't know how many," said PPD Sgt. Catherine Carr, who organized the training. "You're chasing them down a hall, trying to keep your group together.."
The trainees carried weapons that looked and felt like the ones Piedmont officers normally carry — except for brightly colored tags that marked them as pellet guns.
Carr said the training focuses on situations where a suspect is actively shooting victims, cases like the Oikos University shooting in Oakland, the movie theater shooting in Aurora, CO, last July or the Columbine High School incident in 1999.
In cases like these, Carr said, police can't wait for the arrival of specialized SWAT teams. While Piedmont has never had a school shooting or similar incident, local officers need to be prepared to act on the spot.
"You need to train the way you're going to respond," Carr said.
Piedmont officers who participated were enthusiastic about the training.
"It was terrific," Carr said. "I would say it was great fun."
PPD Detective George Phifer echoed her sentiments: "It was great!"
All PPD officers and sergeants took part in the training, which was hosted by the Public Safety Training Institute (PSTI), with instructors from the Sacramento area. About half attended a training session on Nov. 7 and 8, the rest on Nov. 13 and 14. While the Piedmont Police Department sponsored the recent training, local officers were joined by police from other Alameda County and Contra Costa County agencies and from Stanford University.
The two-day training included both classroom work and the role-playing scenarios. PSTI describes the training this way:
"This course provides the law enforcement first responder with a historical overview of active shooter incidents and other dynamic violent critical incidents that have occurred within our society.
"Attendees will train in the area of threat assessment, team movement, communication, search and rescue and incident command. They will learn how to immediately respond, deploy, locate, isolate and end an active shooting. Law enforcement first responders will understand the importance of mentally preparing for these traumatic events."
Carr said the PPD held a similar program for its officers about 10 years ago (using paintball weapons), but the recent course was important both for new members of the department and as a refresher for those who had been through training before.
The training was funded through a grant from the Urban Area Security Initiative Program (UASI).
Carr said Bayer Pharmaceuticals has been "wonderful" about allowing law enforcement agencies to use its vacant Richmond facility for training, but the property has been sold and won't be available any longer.
If you know of a facility that could be used for similar trainings, she'd like to hear from you. You can reach Sgt. Carr at (510) 420-3000 or firstname.lastname@example.org.