In the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton Connecticut, Fair Lawn will reintroduce special training for police officers in handling potential school emergencies.
The “simunitions” training, in which police officers simulate situations in which the use of firearms would be required, is conducted to prepare for a number of contingencies, such as a traffic stop involving weapons. In previous years the police department did the training in the high school as well, but stopped due to budget constraints.
“We regrettably haven’t been able to do it for a couple years due to staffing,” Chief Erik Rose said.
About ten officers are required for each session—five for the training and five to run the simulation. So to put each of the borough’s 54 officers through the training requires high overtime costs. In light of the Newtown tragedy, the borough is exploring ways to find the money in the budget, be more flexible in scheduling, or work with other towns to share costs.
“Doing something of this nature is a significant undertaking,” Rose told Patch, “because besides the fact that you are finding the officers to do it, remember if they are doing that they are not doing something else.”
The simunitions training is done with weapons that replicate those the officers would carry in a real-life situation, so that they can develop the muscle memory and firearms skills to deal with a shooting in a crowded school.
The training will be conducted in Fair Lawn High School while it is closed. “We won’t do it in schools when kids are present, and we don’t do it when school employees are around, because what we do and how we do it is not something we want people to see,” Rose said.
Officers will train in simulations based on scenarios that have happened elsewhere, and Rose says the importance of putting each person on the force is to ensure a timely response to any emergency at the school. Without the training, he says, the department would lose valuable time waiting for a county SWAT team to arrive.
“It was just a matter of minutes and everything was over in Connecticut,” he said. “So the point is that if we have something like that we want all hands on deck as quickly as possible and the first five or six guys that show up, group up and go in.”
In the days immediately following the Sandy Hook shooting, the police were also present at schools at the beginning and end of the day school day, until students left for their December break.
“Did we anticipate that there would be somebody going and doing something in the school? No. But did we agree that having the presence of uniform police and a uniform car by the school would make the parents feel more secure and make the children feel more secure? Yes, so we were glad to do it,” Rose said.
The simunitions training will be done to provide additional reassurance, Rose said, as though the police don’t anticipate any security threats in the school, they want to ensure that if a tragedy similar to the shooting in Connecticut were to take place in the borough it could be handled to minimize casualties.
“There’s nothing that’s going to guarantee that what happened in Connecticut won’t happen anywhere, but I want to make sure that we’ve done everything we can to try and mitigate it, God forbid something should happen here.”