Sandy Springs police officers dress and prepare for active shooter scenarios.
Sandy Springs police officers dress and prepare for active shooter scenarios.

After gunmen repeatedly have killed people in public places across the country, local police departments regularly train officers for “active shooter” situations.

Sandy Springs police plan to convert a warehouse into a training facility where officers can learn ways to respond to an armed assailant. City officials recently agreed to set up the facility for the department’s training and to allow other local police departments to use it.

In a memo to the city manager, Sandy Springs Police Chief Ken DeSimone described an “active shooter” as an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.

Sandy Springs Police Chief Ken DeSimone
Sandy Springs Police Chief Ken DeSimone

“Whether it’s the FedEx facility across the river in Cobb County or an active shooter that happened in the food court of Perimeter Mall 20 years ago,” DeSimone said this type of situation is something society can’t get away from.

Until recently, Sandy Springs police used a makeshift two-story building for training officers to deal with an armed assailant in an urban setting.

Training Officer Sgt. Chip Bohannon teaches officers to use their brains when real-world events unfold.

“An active assailant is someone who is trying to harm people – you mainly see it in schools,” Bohannon said. “If their intent is to cause mass casualty, it doesn’t matter what kind of weapon they have.”

The place where Bohannon conducted the training recently closed. DeSimone said police need a new facility because the type of training for situations is different from standardized training for weapons qualification.

Police in Brookhaven and Dunwoody also conduct training for active shooter situations. “We are actually trying to use Cross Keys High to do our active shooter training in the summer,” said Officer Carlos Nino, spokesman for the Brookhaven department. “Agencies are known to use large buildings such as schools for that type of live training besides from simulators.”

Police use fake ammunition, called “Simunition,” which is similar to paintball pellets, but more painful when it hits.

“It’s like paintball on steroids,” DeSimone told members of Sandy Springs City Council recently.

“We also use a projector and a large white screen with live actors to simulate real life situations,” Dunwoody police spokesman Officer Tim Fecht said.

It’s similar to a Fire Arms Training Simulator machine that Dunwoody officers travel to Cartersville to use, Fecht said.

Bohannon compared the training to a vaccination because the live scenarios are set up to prepare officers for the worse situations they could possibly encounter.

“What we’re doing is we try to stress-inoculate people, so basically we’re trying to put you in a scenario where you’re overly stressed,” Bohannon said.

Nino said once a team of at least four officers (one to watch front, rear, left and right) is assembled in a diamond formation, they enter a building in an attempt to stop the threat and find survivors.

“We obviously use protective gear around our heads and faces,” Nino said. “If areas of the body that are exposed, like the hands and arms, get hit with those rounds, it could leave a nice, strawberry-red bruise.”

Bohannon and Nino agree that “active shooter” training isn’t standard and not all cities have access to funding or space to prepare.

“The guns and rounds are expensive and we’re fortunate enough to have this equipment to practice as close to real-world as possible,” Bohannon said.

The environment gives commanders a good idea as to how officers will react under real pressure and stress, Bohannon said. By putting them through training that involves loud sounds, dark places and role players yelling and screaming, officers learn to cope with strong feelings and emotions, he added.

“Instead of sitting in a classroom talking about what if we actually put you in that situation,” Bohannon said.