The three-member Bibb County campus police teams entered Appling Middle School one team at a time in full tactical gear, guns drawn, ready for their part in a training exercise involving a gunman in the school.
With their adrenaline pumping in the stifling heat, team members signaled to each other as they hunted down the gunman who had killed or wounded several people at Appling.
After the teams made their way up the staircase cautiously, they soon encountered the perpetrator, who was pointing a gun at a hostage. Team members shouted at the gunman to lower his weapon. When he fired at the team, they responded, shooting him and handcuffing him. As the wounded lined the hallway calling for help, the team went room to room, making certain there were no other threats in the building.
When the team cleared the building, they turned to Bibb County Campus Police Chief Daniel DeCoursey and members of the Macon Police Department’s SWAT team to have their performance evaluated.
“What did you see?” an instructor asked officer William Jones, a five-year campus police veteran.
“I saw the suspect with a hostage,” Jones replied. “As soon as she moved out of the way, we shot him.”
The live-action exercise Thursday was part of a two-day training session that DeCoursey arranged with the SWAT team in order for his officers to practice how they would work a scene involving a gunman on a Bibb County school campus.
“We want to make officers more aware of their surroundings and address issues that may come up in the future,” DeCoursey said. “I think it’s been great. It’s as realistic as possible. It will give the people the experience they need. Our officers are excited about the training.”
Jones, still slightly out of breath after just completing the drill, agreed.
“It feels real,” he said. “Personally, I do (want the additional training), especially after finding weapons at this school. I’m just glad to have it.”
DeCoursey said police agencies have developed new tactics and training methods ever since the shooting spree at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, when two students shot 12 students and one teacher and wounded 23 others. The training, DeCoursey said, will help campus police try to limit the damage should a similar situation arise in Bibb County.
SWAT team Sgt. Billy Skinner, who served as the gunman during the exercise, said it’s important that campus police be trained since they are the first responders on the scene of such incidents.
“Since they are the first responders, backup (from local law enforcement) may not be available,” Skinner said. “This training gives them the confidence if they need to take care of something right then and there. Now, they can do that.”
DeCoursey said the exercise is one of several he’s planning for his department. He also plans to work with the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office and the Macon-Bibb County Emergency Management Agency on other training scenarios, because campus police also work with them.
DeCoursey said his unit’s efforts will be enhanced by the new 800 megahertz radio system the school system purchased, which cost about $30,000. The new radios will eliminate certain dead spots that the previous radio system and cell phones had encountered at certain schools in the county, and they would allow campus police to coordinate with other agencies.
In addition, DeCoursey purchased 28 netbooks for about $3,500. The computers will allow officers to access in-school surveillance cameras and student records during a crisis. Later this year, DeCoursey will be adding 15 new squad cars that have been purchased with money raised through the education local option sales tax.
During the just-completed academic year, Bibb County campus police recovered six guns on various campuses, including two during separate incidents at Appling. None of those incidents involved an active shooter.
Thursday’s exercise used special training guns that simulate the feel of Glock .40 semiautomatic handguns and fire pellets filled with detergent.
Officer Carolyn McKenzie, who has been with Bibb County school system for about 13 years, said the exercise felt real.
“It was hot; it was intense,” she said. “We didn’t know what we would encounter. We heard the call go out (about a gunman), and we didn’t know for sure how many gunmen there were. ... We looked at real scenarios if there was an active shooter, and how we would depend on each other.”