Simulators Could Prepare School Resource Officers for the Worst

A simulator is helping school district resource officers prepare in how to respond in the event of an active school shooter. The simulator provides realistic preparation utilizes red lasers to practice firing.

by Kelli Weir, The Repository / February 3, 2020
Local law enforcement and school officials have partnered to purchase an active-shooter simulator to train school resource officers, area police and school officials on how to deescalate a situation and how to react when a shooter enters a school building. \rwhich is housed at Stark State Campus' LG Fuel Cell Systems building. Monday, January 27, 2020. (CantonRep.com / Julie Vennitti) TNS

(TNS) — Panicked students sprint through the school hallway. There's an active shooter in the building.

With his gun drawn, school resource officer Josh Vacha slowly walks toward a body on the carpeted floor.

He spots the back of an adult man in a green polo shirt and khaki pants standing in a classroom doorway.

"Show me your hands, show me your hands," Vacha shouts to the man.

He doesn't respond.

"Turn around now and show me your hands," Vacha demands again.

The man turns and drops to a knee. He raises a gun and points it at Vacha.

Vacha shoots, hitting the man in the forehead.

The man falls to the ground as blood splatters the wall behind him.

Then, the screen flashes to black. The training session has ended.

The lifelike scenario was a simulation to help Vacha and other school resource officers prepare for an active school shooter.

"It's intense," said Vacha, a deputy for the Stark County Sheriff's Office and school resource officer for the Plain Local School District. "Even though I didn't move a whole lot, you still get short of breath a little just because of the adrenaline rush. You don't know what's going to happen, he could turn around and not have a gun, you don't know."

Stark County school resource officers have been training since last fall on the new MILO Range Pro Single Screen simulator to learn how to effectively respond to a wide range of scenarios, including when an active shooter is present in a school or a bomb threat. School employees also are using the simulator to learn how to deescalate a situation, such as when a student is threatening suicide.

The simulator is housed in the former LG Fuel Cell Systems building on the Stark State College campus in Jackson Township. The Stark County Schools' Council, a consortium of 159 member school districts, libraries, colleges and related agencies that serve the greater Stark County area, paid for the simulator. Officials expect to recoup some of the expense by renting it to local law enforcement agencies, the National Guard, police academies and businesses looking to provide training.

Realistic training

Deputy Dominic Antenora, a school resource officer for the Canton Local School District who trained last week, said the simulator provides more realistic preparation than typical exercises.

"You can go to a range and shoot at a paper target and it doesn't move and react," said Antenora. "To get to shoot with this technology that reacts or counteracts to your actions is an amazing training experience."

The simulator allows the resource officers to use the same type of service gun they normally use, except the weapons shoot a red laser instead of bullets. It still provides the recoil of a real gun.

Rifles, stun guns, flashlights and even pepper spray also can be used as weapons.

The simulator, which projects a video onto a 12-by-7 screen, offers roughly 900 scenarios that can range from 10 seconds to 3 minutes. A simulator operator, who sits at a computer, adapts the scenario based on the actions of the officer.

Later this year, customized simulations depicting Stark County schools and other landmarks are expected to be developed and incorporated into the training.

Following each simulation, the user can play back a video of themselves to show their movements and responses. The screen also will show where the user's bullets landed if they used a weapon.

During training last week, Stark County Sheriff Sgt. Chad Smith, who supervises the roughly 15 school resource officer employed by the sheriff's office, debriefed each of the officers by talking through the simulations and their response, noting any adjustments they should make.

'Crowning' achievement

The simulator is the latest tangible development to come from the Stark County Schools Safety and Security Task Force began in the wake of the February 2018 planned shooting at Jackson Memorial Middle School and wave of threats against schools following the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

The task force, led by Stark County Sheriff George Maier, meets monthly to discuss how to keep schools – and Stark County's more than 50,000 students – safe. It is comprised of representatives from the sheriff's office, Stark County Educational Service Center, police chief's association, school superintendents, Stark State College, as well as a former judge, current and former FBI agents and a former employee of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

"It's probably one of our crowning achievements," Maier said of the simulator. "... What a fantastic tool to be used on both sides of the aisle as it relates to law enforcement professionals and school professionals. The scenarios are invaluable."

David Morgan, a former FBI agent who sits on the task force, said the latest U.S. Secret Service Analysis of Target School Violence emphasizes the need for highly trained school resource officers and employees.

"About 83% (of the shootings analyzed) were over in less than 5 minutes," said Morgan, now employed by the Stark/Portage Area Computer Consortium and works as a safety consultant for the Jackson Local School District.

The report, which studied 41 incidents of targeted school violence in U.S. schools from 2008 to 2017, states that none of the attacks were ended by outside law enforcement agencies responding from off-campus.

Before 2018 school year, 15 school resource officers were employed in Stark County. Now, there's nearly 60.

Beyond the simulator, the task force also has been the conduit for additional training for school resource officers covering topics such as crisis intervention training and assessing risks within a school.

The task force also has paved the way for school resource officers to train together monthly and communicate on a regular basis.

"We recognized that while our resource officers were doing a fantastic job in our schools, we needed to bring them together and have them work together a little more united on how they were approaching things," Maier said. "... They're working a lot better, a lot safer and a lot smarter by sharing information and working together and communicating together."

Joe Chaddock, superintendent of the Stark County Educational Service Center, said the task force has improved overall communication between law enforcement and the schools.

"The relationships, the partnerships and communication have never been better," he said.

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