Sedro-Woolley police get proactive in preparing for violence
SEDRO-WOOLLEY — It can happen anywhere, at anytime.
Active violence situations — whether with knives, bombs, vehicles or guns — have happened in Parkland, Florida; Las Vegas; and Sutherland Springs, Texas.
They have happened in Skagit County.
“We can’t stop bad people from doing bad things,” Sedro-Woolley police officer Zach Carroll said. “Evil exists in this world.”
In order to prepare for the worst, the Sedro-Woolley Police Department is teaching residents what to do should they find themselves in an active threat situation at home, work or school.
At two meetings last week, the department outlined some of the things it has done to prepare for active violence situations and offered residents tips to have their best chance of survival.
“What I’m realizing is we need to not treat you like victims,” Carroll said of the role civilians can play in these situations. “We need to teach you how to not be victims so you’re not victims.”
Between 2000 and 2015, Carroll said, the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center at Texas State University identified 142 active shooter events — 44 at schools and 98 at businesses.
“This isn’t only a school problem,” Carroll said. “This is an adult problem, this is a workplace problem as well, this is a people problem.”
Carroll and officer Bryan Hull are the department’s active threat instructors, which means they teach other officers in the area the best practices when responding to such situations.
“You can get better prepared and be able to react to this stuff better,” Hull said. “That’s why we’re doing this.”
The first step, Carroll said, is to identify what an active threat situation is.
“An ongoing violent act where the motive is to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible,” he said. “These guys don’t have an exit plan, these guys are going for a body count.”
More than half the time, Carroll said, the threat will be over before police can respond.
“There’s going to be a period of two to four minutes where you are on your own,” Carroll said. “The cavalry is coming, and we’re coming hard, but there will be a period where you are on your own.”
For people who find themselves in an active threat situations, Hull and Carroll said, they need to assess what to do.
The first reaction is to run, they said. If you are unable to run, you should hide.
“Most of the time if (suspects) find a locked door they’re not going to try to force their way into it,” Carroll said. “They know they don’t have a lot of time.”
If running or hiding don’t work, the officers said, the best solution is to fight — however possible.
“Your will to fight is more important that your ability to fight,” Hull said. “If you want to go home, I guarantee you will find a way.”
The class held Thursday in the Sedro-Woolley City Council Chambers also taught people how to respond to police once they arrive on scene, including keeping hands visible to officers at all times.
They are lessons the Sedro-Woolley Police Department is hoping to share through other classes and with other agencies.
The day before the public lesson at the municipal building, staff from Mary Purcell Elementary School and local police and other first responders briefed parents on what’s being done to protect their children from violent acts.
The school district’s first ever Family Safety Night dealt with disasters both natural and man-made. Still, speakers and parents set the focus squarely on school shootings.
“You can look at it as being proactive instead of reactive,” Principal Mike Cullum said of the event.
As part of the district’s $3.6 million safety and technology levy approved by voters in 2014, Cullum said, each of the district’s schools has been outfitted with surveillance cameras and panic buttons that lock exterior doors and automatically call 911.
Each classroom, Cullum said, has a printout detailing the standard response protocol for different types of emergencies.
“(Schools) weren’t built like the fortresses we’d like them to look like today,” said Sedro-Woolley Police Chief Lin Tucker. “Our world has changed.”
Last summer, each of the district’s 10 schools held threat response drills — mostly dealing with what to do in case of an active shooter.
Jada Trammell, executive director of the Central Valley Ambulance Authority, said she was impressed with the school district’s foresight in holding this meeting. Other districts, she said, aren’t as far along in their emergency planning as Sedro-Woolley.
“They’re really the leaders,” Trammell said. “It’s pretty incredible to have all these people trying to protect your kids in one room.”
At the school event, Tucker spoke to parents about what they can expect from law enforcement in the event of an active shooter in a school.
“All the stops get pulled out (for a school shooting),” he said. “Because this is the most important thing we do.”
Tucker also took a moment to touch on a proposal that often surfaces after school shootings.
“Anyone here heard about arming teachers? Probably not the best idea,” he said. “Teachers have a completely different focus.”
Law enforcement officers are trained and equipped to dive headfirst into dangerous situations, he said, which is not the case with teachers.
Tucker reminded parents that as much as they may want to head immediately to the school upon learning of a violent act and demand police find their child, it’s safer if they stay out of law enforcement’s way.
“We don’t blame you for that, it’s just not going to happen,” he said.
Cullum said the district has several “reunification sites,” where children will be transported in the case of an emergency. The district will inform parents where and when they can pick up their kids.
He said district staff will need time to match kids with parents.
“You’re gonna need ID and a lot of patience,” Cullum said.
While nothing the officers taught could ease the pain and trauma of being involved in an active violence situation, Carroll and Hull said, the department’s goal is to help people stay alive.
“These people are cowards,” Carroll said. “And when cowardice is met with good people doing the right things, that’s how we win.”
Any preparation, they said, helps honor the memories of people who have not been so lucky.
“If we don’t learn from this, we’ve done nothing,” Carroll said. “If we don’t, their sacrifices don’t mean all that much.”