By Crystal Burns
Stephanie Franks yelled for help and waved her arms as an armed Trenton police officer, gun drawn, carefully entered the Trenton Rosenwald Middle School lobby.
“There’s a shooter!” she yelled. “He’s on the sixth grade hall!”
There was urgency in Franks’ voice, but the Trenton Special School District Safety Supervisor was merely helping the Trenton Police Dept. conduct active shooter response training scenarios Wednesday and Thursday afternoon. She later joked she could win an award for her acting, but Franks said the gravity of the training didn’t escape her.
“This is invaluable,” Franks said.
Lisa Phillips, the TSSD director of Coordinated School Health, served as the go-between for the police department and school district, lined up the actors – Franks, Peabody assistant principal Shane Jacobs and three Peabody students Bryce Franks, Tony Walters and Rafe Hannah – and cleared the building each afternoon so officers could conduct the live exercises.
“It’s very unfortunate that we’re in a time when [training] like this has to happen, but we’re very fortunate we’re in a community that cares,” Phillips said. “I appreciate the chief and officers stepping forward to keep our community and students safe. This is a great partnership to have.”
Chief Bill Cusson approached Phillips earlier this summer to coordinate the training and began studying the district’s emergency response plans for each school. Officers spent the first half of each day in the classroom and began their practical exercises about 2:30 each afternoon.
“There’s no better training than to go out there and do these things,” Cusson said.
The four scenarios included one officer arriving on the scene to confront an active shooter, two officers arriving together to confront an active shooter, a four-man team of officers going in the school with two Fire Dept. First Responders after the threat had been neutralized to help get victims to triage, and a four-man team arriving after one threat had been neutralized but another shooter remained.
Trenton Fire Chief Terrence Elam was happy to have his first responders participate in the training.
“This gives us an idea of what to expect,” he said. “Any training we can do with the police just helps us all to better protect our citizens.”
Cusson taught active shooter training in Arizona. Trenton recently sent Lt. Jimmy Wilson and School Resource Officer (SRO) Steven Gosney to 2-day active shooter training in Madison County, and Cusson said he was pleased to learn that law enforcement agencies across the country are using similar methods. He hopes to schedule additional training with other county agencies such as the Gibson County Sheriff’s Dept. in the future.
While the public may be used to seeing men and women outfitted in SWAT gear storming into schools, businesses or churches where a shooter has opened fire, Cusson said studies show that more than 75 percent of active shooters are stopped by a single officer, usually the first one on the scene.
“Training is everything,” Cusson said. “The quicker you get there and stop the threat, the better. It’s a patrol response. It’s not a SWAT response.”
“To coordinate preparation with our police seems prudent,” said TSSD Director of Schools Tim Haney. “We appreciate it and ask for the support and training.”