COUNCIL BLUFFS — Law enforcement agencies are constantly debating how to handle dangerous situations.
The models for training change daily as new threats appear and the understanding of how to handle those threats grows.
Over the last week, members of the Iowa Department of Public Safety — Iowa State Patrol troopers, special agents and state gambling officials — have been running through exercises at Iowa School for the Deaf.
Iowa State Patrol Sgt. Mike Wesack, who is also the local tactical team commander, said the way officers treat active shooter situations has grown over the last two decades.
Before the 1999 Columbine High School shootings, officers were told to wait for the Emergency Services Team or the SWAT team to arrive before entering a dangerous environment. But as officers waited outside, more carnage ensued inside.
“Every second counts in a situation like this,” Wesack said of the active-shooter scenarios that were playing out in the third-floor halls of the school's dormitories.
Training shells and paint-filled bullets flew through the halls Wednesday. The sounds of a training AK-47 reverberated through a stairwell as officers entered the school.
“In the past, officers were trained to wait for backup, but every second — which is how fast an automatic weapon can fire — is one life.”
The new training guidelines suggest that the first responder should confront the situation immediately.
Wesack said most mass shooting suspects are disrupted by a single officer or citizen.
That's why the four tactical units across the state are training Iowa Department of Public Safety officers.
Iowa State Patrol SWAT members acted out numerous scenarios.
Some involved a civilian with a concealed weapon permit offering to lend assistance.
“What do you do if you are at a school and a dad with a concealed weapon is the first one on scene with an active shooter?” Wesack asked. “Talking a father out of wanting to save their child could be difficult.”
Wesack said the right answer could change from situation to situation, but law enforcement would like to avoid at all costs the liability of entering a potentially deadly situation with a civilian.
“More than likely, we would try to use the person as a liaison outside to tell the next responders where the officer is at,” he said.
“At a big campus like ISD, an officer would need that help.”
The officers also ran through hostage situations, in which Wesack said the intent is for officers to draw the attention of the gunman.
“We succeed as long as we direct the shooter's fire off of innocent victims,” he said.
“We are equipped with armored vests and firepower.
“If we can direct their attention — save innocent lives — and use our tactics, training and cover, we will win.”