Meridian Star

April 8, 2013

On a mission

Extension coordinates law enforcement class

By Linda Breazeale / MSU Ag Communications
The Meridian Star

MERIDIAN —     MISSISSIPPI STATE – Mississippi State University Extension Service is connecting law enforcement agencies with trainers on a mission to protect innocent citizens from active shooters.

    Ryan Akers, assistant professor of community preparation and disaster management with the MSU Extension Service, said people do not want to think tragic shooting incidents could happen in their peaceful communities.

    Unfortunately, crimes involving active shooters occur almost daily somewhere in the United States, challenging local law enforcement to respond aggressively, rapidly and effectively.

    “We can’t prevent 100 percent of these crimes, but law enforcement can prepare and hopefully minimize injuries and loss of life by learning how to respond,” Akers said.

    MSU’s Extension Service coordinated a three-day, active-shooter response course developed and facilitated by the National Center for Biomedical Research and Training, one of the leading training agencies for U.S. Department of Homeland Security initiatives. The course, “Law Enforcement Active Shooter Emergency Response,” was conducted March 13-15 on campus.

    “This course to train responders and future trainers benefits more than 30 law enforcement officers from Mississippi, Tennessee and Alabama,” Akers said. “They will be able to return to their agencies and strengthen their active shooter training programs.”

    Akers said train-the-trainer classes are taught by some of the most experienced people in the country. Kit Cessna, a combat-tested veteran of the U.S. Army’s Delta Force and a SWAT officer, served as the lead instructor for the MSU class.

    “Our goal is to provide the knowledge and skills to rapidly neutralize violent offenders during an active shooter incident to prevent loss of innocent lives,” Cessna said. “The class is about rapid deployment and ruthless pursuit.”

    Cessna said the class covers past shooting incidents and reviews critical lessons learned in those cases.

    “For example, Columbine taught us a priority for our actions. First, stop the active shooter; second, rescue victims; third, provide medical assistance; and fourth, preserve the crime scene,” he said.

    “The Virginia Tech campus shooting is what really got this course going. One thing we learned from that is that any violent act, such as the double homicide at the dormitory, could be followed by more violence somewhere else,” he said.

    Cessna commended MSU for hosting the training, which was held during spring break.

    During the sessions, participants learned methods of breaking down doors and clearing hallways, stairways and rooms, as well as dangers to be aware of and avoid.

    Mark Ballard is the SWAT supervisor for the Starkville Police Department and has been in law enforcement since 1994. He said similar courses in the past also emphasized a rapid response.

    “Unlike other courses, this one provided recommendations for a two-person response and allowed that even one person can stop a shooter. Other active-shooter classes have recommended more than two officers before responding. The two-person response is much more realistic due to the need for an immediate response,” he said.

    Ballard said the quality of the trainers for a class so close to home was exceptional, and they were able to reinforce lessons learned in other classes and give additional recommendations as well.

    “Other classes have provided similar experiences with soap bullets that have a different sound when fired, but the active-shooter exercises they put us through on campus with more realistic-sounding gunfire really got our adrenaline going,” he said. “This class was more intense than normal training classes.”

    Ballard said an added benefit was working with officers from other nearby agencies. One goal for participants is to teach the material to members of their agencies who did not attend this class.

    “SWAT members are not the only ones who need to know how to address an active shooter,” he said. “All first responders must be prepared.”