PLAQUEMINE — Law enforcement authorities such as Iberville Parish Sheriff Brett Stassi know that every second counts when an armed person walks onto a school campus with the intent to kill.
So with that in mind, Stassi invited police officers from all over the parish to join his deputies for active shooter scenario training exercises this week at Plaquemine High School.
The program was designed to give participants the ability to reduce the number of lives lost during horrific school shooting incidents such as the one that occurred Dec. 14 at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. Adam Lanza, 20, shot and killed 20 children and six adult staff members after killing his mother. As first responders arrived, Lanza committed suicide by gunshot.
“National statistics show that someone dies every 15 seconds while we’re trying to get to these type of situations, but with this training, we’re not going to have to wait on a SWAT team to arrive on the scene,” Stassi said as the exercises got underway Wednesday. “These people are our first responders; they’re the ones that will be going into the buildings — or already be on the scene.”
Police officers from Plaquemine, St. Gabriel and Maringouin joined nearly 40 of Stassi’s deputies in the active shooter training exercises taught by a team of experts from the Desoto Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Desoto Parish volunteered to provide the training at little cost to Iberville Parish. “All I had to do was pay for their hotel stays,” Stassi said.
Dusty Herring, one of the Desoto deputies, said the demand for active shooter training for law enforcement agencies has risen as school shootings become more frequent.
The first two-day training exercise took place on Monday and Tuesday, followed by a second session on Wednesday and Thursday.
Herring said officers learn modified Special Weapons and Tactics techniques on the first day of training and on day two are challenged to use those techniques to secure the campus from a pretend shooter during a scripted emergency scenario.
“Being able to operate as a team is important in these situations,” Herring said. “They need to be able to make entry and seek out the threat to save lives. If (the shooter) is focused on police, he’s not going to be focused on the children.”
Among the 60 or so law enforcement officers attending the training sessions were five school resource officers with the Iberville Parish Sheriff’s Office. Stassi was able to hire four of them through his partnership with the Iberville Parish school system.
The School Board agreed in January to allocate more than $150,000 to the Sheriff’s Office to hire the new resource officers in order to provide regular police presence on the school system’s 10 campuses. The system previously had only one school resource officer.
“These school resource officers will have all kinds of intelligence we’ll need to know about the school in the event of an emergency situation,” Stassi said.
Following the Sandy Hook mass murders, the Sheriff’s Office worked with a private consultant to create individual crisis plans for each of the parish’s schools.
Stassi said his agency will provide special training to the school system’s faculty and staff to help authorities detect a threat should one materialize on campus.
“Time is everything,” Stassi said. “The training for the teachers and principals is for them to know how to help us save time and get to the perpetrator.”