‘On The Same Page’

Program Streamlines Language, Tactics At Shooting Scenes

Posted: April 26, 2013

Harrisonburg police Cpl. Daniel Claxton (left) portrays a potential gunman while Bridgewater Lt. J.R. Dodd (center) seizes control of the situation during vehicle assault training in Harrisonburg on Thursday. The session was part of the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training program being conducted at the Harper-Presgrave Regional Training Center. (Photos by Nikki Fox)
Harrisonburg police officer Jason Wyant (left) and HPD Patrol Sgt. Ron Howard (center) listen as Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training instructor Randall Watkins discusses dismounted rescue training for instructors.
HARRISONBURG — Randall Watkins’s job is to make sure that when police respond to the scene of a shooting or similar emergency they’re all speaking the same language.

Watkins, an instructor with Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training, is running a five-day instructor training program in Harrisonburg this week.

ALERRT, which began as a Texas State University program, is now being used throughout the country to streamline language and tactics used when law enforcement responds to a scene of an active outdoor shooter. The course takes 40 hours to complete.

Another course, also offered by ALERRT, teaches officers the same information and tactics, but does not qualify them to teach. That course is given over three days.

“The idea is to train everybody to be on the same page,” Watkins said. “When you have a situation, there might be four guys on the scene that have never met each other before.”

The goal of the ALERRT system is to simulate situations such as an officer being ambushed in a vehicle, civilian rescues, bomb threats and shooter situations.

“We start off with [teaching] how to fight off someone trying to kill you in your car,” Watkins said. “We also stick with concepts and principles that apply no matter what [the situation].”

Officers from 12 jurisdictions gathered at the Harper-Presgrave Regional Training Center for the 24-student course.

Upon completion, the officers will be certified to teach the course in their precincts.

Harrisonburg police officers Sgt. Ron Howard and Lt. Rod Pollard are already certified, having traveled to Texas to take the course earlier this year.

“I think the system is a very good product,” Pollard said. “You can take it from state to state and [know] the training is consistent. They’ve done a great job bringing everybody together.”

Still, much of the federal funding that allows Watkins and his team to travel and teach the ALERRT courses has been cut, making these training sessions all the more important.

The equipment used in the simulations, which can cost from $160,000 to $180,000, is the main investment.

“It’s not necessarily that we’d get paid to teach the classes,” said Howard, noting the courses could be taught without a lot of the equipment but the quality would suffer.

Watkins said the computerized pop-up targets, rifles and ammunition all carry hefty price tags, though all of the equipment, with the exception of ammunition, can be reused.

“I think we’re at about 100 classes [with the same equipment],” he said.

After this training session, the Harrisonburg Police Department will have four officers certified to teach the active-shooter classes.

Pollard said a basic training course is planned for August, and while it will primarily be geared toward HPD officers, he already has been contacted by other departments from around the area that have shown interest in taking part.

Contact Kaitlin Mayhew at 574-6290 or kmayhew@dnronline.com

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