Photo by Heather Middleton
By Joel Hall
Sgt. Willie Finley, and Officer Byron Stone, fanned through an abandoned dorm at Clayton State University East that once was the campus of Atlanta Bible College in Morrow.
Using flashlights and simulation rounds of ammunition, Finley and Stone, who are members of the Clayton State University Police Department, rounded corners, cleared rooms, shouted safety commands, and took aim at potential attackers.
It was all a simulation, but the training was real, and is designed to help prevent massacres like those on other school campuses in recent years, from happening at Clayton State.
CSU annual Active Shooter Training exercise took place on Thursday morning. SWAT officers from the Clayton County Police Department served as instructors for campus police, taking them through realistic scenarios of suppressing armed attackers in a three-story dormitory.
Clayton State University Police Chief Bobby Hamil said that for more than five years, campus and county police have performed the exercise in the university's one-story Business and Health Sciences Building. With the 2008 addition of Laker Hall, the college's first on-campus dorm, Hamil said having the exercises at the former Atlanta Bible College dorms provided officers with a relevant, potential scenario.
"We just took over this building last year," Hamil said. "This building is about to undergo renovation ... so it's the perfect place to have it. Without using our dorms, this is the closest we can get to that kind of training."
"It's just to help us prepare, in case we have a human emergency, a shooter on campus, or a hostage situation ... something as serious as that, or somebody who is mentally unbalanced, who has disrupted a class," he said.
"Our officers are going to be the first to respond. If we train with a group of officers who deal with this on a regular basis, it will help us feel more prepared."
Officers used the abandoned dorm off Trammell Road in Morrow, learning effective communication, the importance of teamwork, and efficiently addressing perceived, and real, dangers. Using simulation rounds -- a non-lethal form of ammunition similar to paint balls -- officers were able to receive positive, and negative, reinforcement.
Lt. Steve Branham, SWAT Commander for the Clayton County Police Department, said police departments around the country have been practicing Active Shooter Training since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. He said training officers from other jurisdictions allows them to work on one accord, if such an incident were to occur.
"Without teamwork, an individual won't make it," Branham said. "It opens the line of communication ... communication being the most important tool you have in police work. Have other officers participating, that means if mutual aid is needed, it ensures we are all working off the same page of music."
Hamil said that, with about a dozen officers, the university's police force is smaller than departments in surrounding jurisdictions. However, he said the training provides police the skills to respond despite being small in number.
"We don't have a lot of officers on shift," Hamil said. "At anytime, it's just two to four, so they may have to respond to an incident with very few resources. It [the exercise] helps you feel more prepared."