SARASOTA, Fla. — As cases of gun violence continue to rise nationwide, local law enforcement is trying to stay prepared. Southside Elementary School became a training ground for officers from the Sarasota Police Department.
The training is part of their annual SNAP Evaluation of Active Shooter Tactics. The exercise is all in the spirit of safety and being prepared for a real-life encounter with an active shooter. The officers are presented with different active shooter scenarios and have to determine how to respond, what they would need to do once on scene and to do so with speed and precision.
The key goals for the officers include neutralizing the target as quickly as possible and getting people to safety.
"If you are a police officer in the United States, in 2022, if you're not prepared you might be in the wrong profession," Captain Kenneth Rainey of Sarasota Police Department said.
"If you're a police officer in the United States of America, you don't need to be thinking like 'oh my goodness, I hope this never happens to me.' You need to be thinking 'when this does happen, this is what I will do,'" Rainey said.
Mass shootings have continued to dominate headlines across the country. There have been more than 270 mass shootings so far in 2022 according to the non-profit research group, Gun Violence Archive, which collects data and maps out incidents of gun violence in the country.
A May mass shooting incident in Uvalde,Texas, saw an accused 18-year-old gunman shoot and kill 19 elementary school children and 2 teachers. That shooting was recorded as the 27th school shooting in the country for the year. Active shooter drills and training like the one being conducted by the Sarasota Police department and other law enforcement agencies have come under the microscope and taken a new meaning after law enforcement in Uvalde came under fire for not storming into the school to stop the shooter.
"I think of Parkland, I think of really Columbine," Rainey said. "Multiple, multiple agencies, every agency in the area is going to come to an incident such as this so we need to be able to get that exposure."
These exercises were a surprise to officers who were called into the mock scene not long after they started their shift for the day. The officers were assessed on their collective performance as a responding team and their preparedness. At the end of each scenario, the officers got a debrief about the school layout and the Sarasota School Districts' response guide for an actual situation.
"They get dispatched from the road and come in and respond with the scenario we present them and we evaluate to make sure that our training and philosophies align with what's appropriate and responsiveness and such as this," he said.
"It's the priority of life that is above all else and the thought of not responding shouldn't enter your mind," Rainey said.
The training will continue over several days at the school which is closed for summer break.
Police have advised that residents not be concerned over the heavy police activity around Webber Street and Tamiami Trail because it is part of the training exercises.