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Active shooter response training helps officers navigate schools
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Active shooter response training helps officers navigate schools

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COLFAX — The 15 police officers stood alert at Ridgeview High School, ready to act if a gunman ran out of a classroom.

“We try to prepare for what could happen and are happy when it doesn’t,” said Jamie Liebendorfen, a Bloomington police officer and instructor of the active shooter response training held Friday and Saturday at the Colfax school.

Colfax Police Chief Michael Scott requested the training. “What’s more important than keeping kids safe?” Scott asked.

Using a working school building gives officers a different experience than training in an abandoned warehouse. Liebendorfen said several officers who responded to a gun incident last fall at Normal Community High School already had been trained in school buildings.

“In every situation there is something to learn,” he said.

The training has been offered here since 2008 and is coordinated by Rick Beoletto of Mobile Training Unit 8, based at Heartland Community College. The program, held on Saturdays, also has been offered at Pontiac Township High School and several schools in Bloomington and Normal. The schools also hold lockdown drills to prepare staff and students for an emergency, he said.

“We try to make the training as realistic as possible so when something happens, they know what to do,” said Mark Kotte, director of Mobile Unit 8, which covers Livingston, McLean, Ford and Iroquois counties. It is one of 16 units in the state structured under the Illinois Law Enforcement Training Standards.

“It’s important to us for law enforcement to be familiar with our building,” said Ridgeview Superintendent Guy Gradert. “Because of our rural locale, there are only two officers who might be here in a matter of minutes.”

McLean County’s Unit 5 district has offered its schools for training, and also sent staff to the training center at Heartland for advanced training, said Superintendent Gary Niehaus.

Training “really gives police a good sense of knowing their way around the buildings,” said Bloomington Superintendent Barry Reilly. “Hopefully, you never need that expertise.”

Officers learn to clear a classroom, respond to an active shooter, understand how to locate the shooter, and adapt as the situation changes. Training includes in-classroom sessions and live scenarios, sometimes using paint balls.

“We emphasize schools, because that’s where the majority of active shooters are,” Beoletto said, but shootings also happen in public places including movie theaters.

At Ridgeview, for instance, Liebendorfen talked to officers standing in a dark hallway. “As an officer, we are responsible for every shot we expend,” he said, asking them whether they could see the man at the far end.

He said officers need a good rifle sight and a good pair of binoculars, because a rifle can shoot farther than you can see.

“What use is good equipment if you can’t see?” he asked.

The training is paid for by fees from each for each the 33 member agencies, Kotte said. The Colfax session was one of several annual sessions, and was the third in Unit 8 this year, said Beoletto, a Bloomington police officer.

Participating officers represented police departments in Colfax, Bloomington, Clinton, Chenoa and other towns in McLean and Livingston counties.

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