Police learn best ways to handle school shootings

Targets are chosen to help officers mentally prepare to react to a school shooting.
MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson

It's all about response time. When there's a school shooting, it can take a SWAT team 20 minutes or a half hour to respond.

John Benner says that's no longer acceptable.

Benner runs the Ohio-based Tactical Defense Institute. He says when someone starts shooting up a school, seconds can save lives.

"How many people are you willing to wait for this guy to shoot, before you respond to this?"

"If you look at Virginia Tech, that guy shot between seven and eight people every minute he was in there," Benner says. "How many people are you willing to wait for this guy to shoot, before you respond to this?"

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Benner is in Fargo-Moorhead this week, training 26 school resource officers from 7 states in new response tactics. It's called, active shooter response training.

The National School Resource Officers organization is sponsoring similar training sessions across the country.

Benner says immediate response requires new tactics and a new mindset for officers who are trained to wait for backup before facing danger.

"We're big believers in a very aggressive method of doing business against somebody who's actively trying to hurt other people," he explains. "It's really the only way to deal with it. To wait three or four minutes to get someone else there, is unacceptable. It's different than just about anything else we do in law enforcement."

Chris Potter
Fargo School Resource Officer Chris Potter says he thinks about school shooting scenarios every day.
MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson

Later in the week, the officers will take part in realistic shooting scenarios in a Fargo school. First, the 26 officers are at the firing range practicing shooting tactics.

Their target is a life size picture of a smiling teenage girl, holding a handgun.

"You have five seconds to fire five shots. Ready. Fire," the instructor says.

One of those on the firing line is Fargo School Resource Officer Chris Potter.

He understands the danger of responding alone against someone who may be heavily armed. But he says his job is to distract the shooter, and make himself the target instead of the kids.

"If I happen to be the only armed officer, I have a moral and ethical obligation to respond," Potter says. "That's why we're in those schools. That's why we need to know how to respond into a dangerous situation alone. It's a difference in tactics, it's doing a very dangerous thing in the safest way possible while still meeting that ethical and moral obligation to protect those kids in the school."

Facing a gunfight alone requires new tactics and a new mindset for officers.
MPR Photo/Dan Gunderson

Potter and the other officers will learn various tactics for engaging a shooter without backup. This tactical training will last a week but Potter says for him, the mental training is a daily exercise.

"The problem with being a school resource officer is now you've got an emotional investment in those kids," he says. "You're almost like a surrogate parent to all those kids and you have to work through that and realize one of your kids, one of those kids you might even have a positive relationship with, could be a victim, could be your shooter. That's always on my mind. Every day I go to work I think, 'Is today the day?'"

Potter says he knows the odds are there won't be a school shooting in Fargo. But after this week, he'll feel better prepared to deal with the unthinkable.