Leeds Police Chief Jim Atkinson said the department is putting together its own tactical or SWAT team to handle active shooter situations.
Atkinson said the team will be made up of at least 10 volunteers and will train with the Irondale Police Department, as well as with state and county agencies. The team will also have a trained sniper as well, he said.
Atkinson, along with two officers from the Irondale Police Department, held a presentation at the Leeds United Methodist Family Life Center last week on what to do during an active shooter situation.
“It’s unfortunate that you have to see stuff like this because it’s happening every day,” he said. “You never know what day or when.”
The presentation was led by Irondale Police officers, Corporal Mike Toliver and Corporal Casey Leonard. Both are veterans of law enforcement and have served on SWAT teams in the past.
“Scary times that we’re living in, is it not?” Toliver began. “Unless you’ve been living under a rock you can see everything that’s progressing and everything in the media. Everybody’s trying to be the first to tell the story.”
“But what you’re not hearing is that as a society we’re starting to get acclimated because it’s in the news all the time. It’s scary. Now we’re starting to adjust because it’s becoming the norm. This is not the norm.”
Toliver and Leonard stood before a projection screen that displayed a memorial for the 32 victims who died at the Virginia Tech mass shooting in 2007.
“Like Mike was saying if you watch the news at all it seems like every other day there’s an incident,” Leonard said. “Unfortunately there’s no set program that if you follow steps you’re going to be alright. But there are tools you can use in an incident where there’s an active shooter and this can relate to anything as simple as a fire.”
An educational video created by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department was shown that depicted two fictionalized shooter situations, one taking place in a warehouse with a disgruntled worker with the other in an office building in which a man arrives randomly shooting bystanders.
In many cases the average police response time is three minutes, quite a bit of time for damage to be done, they said. They demonstrated by setting a timer for three minutes while Toliver walked from table to table miming the act of shooting with a handgun.
In an actual situation, multiple people would have been killed or wounded in this relatively short timespan.
Some of the takeaways from the presentation were based on the concept of “run, hide, fight.” Key points include:
- Be aware of exits in any building you’re in so you know where to run in advance. Although it may seem unlikely that the average person will find themselves in such a scenario, it would benefit anyone to have a plan to escape.
- Assist the wounded if you’re not in danger. If you can’t make it to an exit, find a secure, locked down room. Lights should be out and cell phones should be completely silenced.
- If you’re able and you’re forced to, defend yourself. Many objects in an area can be used as weapons. In the workplace scenario of the video, a bystander used a fire extinguisher to spray the shooter, who fell and lost his weapon in time for first responders to find him.
If you’ve escaped from the area of a shooting and you’ve been found by an officer, Toliver and Leonard advise that you follow an officer’s commands, show palms and don’t move until instructed.
52 percent of shootings take place in commerce areas, they said. 25 percent were in education areas, though shootings are becoming more commonplace in open, public spaces.
55 percent of attacks end before police respond and 12 percent of officers are shot in these events. Shooters tend to be white males in their 30s, with no prior mental health diagnosis.
As has happened over time, controversy continues over how to alleviate the number of shootings, ranging from gun control policies to mental health issues to violence in video games and other mediums.
There is certainly not a simple answer.
“The root of the problem is evil people,” Leonard commented. “How long has that been with us? For as long as man has been around there’s been evil in his heart. That’s where it stems from.”
When the presentation was concluded, Chief Atkinson made the announcement for the tactical team.
He did not have a timeframe on when the team would be ready but said that it is in the “initial stages” and is set to begin training in the coming weeks.
For more information on active shooter situations, see the FBI’s page on fbi.gov.