NEW BRITAIN - Screams are echoing throughout the building. Students are crying as they lie in a pool of blood in the hall. Others are running out of a classroom yelling, “He has a gun!”
There’s a man in a plaid shirt with his back turned toward a wall. He’s obviously got something in his hands. But despite repeated commands, he refuses to turn around.
Does he have a gun? Or is it a cell phone?
“People actually do that,” said Officer James Krolikowski, one of several in the New Britain Police Training Division, of the computer-generated active-shooter scenario that shows a suspected potential assailant turning around with a phone, not a gun, in his hand.
“No matter what we train, something else could happen,” the veteran New Britain officer said. “We have to train for a variety of scenarios and, hopefully, our guys will have the skills to apply it to anything.”
The scenarios generated by the Milo Range Simulator show the city officers the dozens of split-second decisions they may have to make simultaneously while entering a school, or any building, when responding to a report of an active shooter.
Their decision-making process will be determined by their training, Krolikowski and his team of trainers said. The question then becomes: Are they getting enough?
Smaller departments have a harder time cycling officers through rounds of training a year since it requires overtime.
“I’m certain our officers want more training,” said Berlin Deputy Chief Christopher Ciuci. “Every year we do building searches and active threats. For the past two years we’ve done active-shooter training at schools. They also get annual in-service training.”
Some Berlin officers also attend training offered by the Police Officer Standards and Training Council, which runs the statewide police academy. Officers will also work on building-clearing techniques while responding to false alarms and finding a door open, he said.
Ciuci conceded that the department would like to do more, but can’t take on the expense.
“The chief (John Klett) and I feel it’s important to do more than what we’re doing,” Ciuci said. “That would mean increasing the training budget. But in these fiscally tough times, it’s not feasible.”
Plainville police train at least yearly and try to get more, if possible, said Sgt. Rich Marquis. “We try to get access to buildings to train in, even ones that are getting ready to be demolished.”
It’s important to give officers the best “realism of chaos” so they know what they will be facing, he said.
“There are always opportunities for more training, but in the profession there are so many things we have to deal with, we can’t continually train,” Marquis said. “We have a very good baseline of how we’re going to respond.”
They learn from each of the active-shooter incidents across the country and speak to other agencies about training, he said. “We’re constantly refining our response. We feel prepared to the extent we can be,” he said.
For New Britain police, responding to an active-shooter situation is more than an elaborate training video simulation.
Officers were forced to charge into the Hospital of Special Care in February 2012 after it was reported that a disgruntled employee had shot and wounded his two supervisors. Several officers provided cover while paramedics treated the men. Both survived.
Years later, New Britain police mounted the same kind of immediate and tactical response when someone reported that a man in combat gear carrying what looked like a gun ran into a dorm at Central Connecticut State University. The incident turned out to be a student returning to the dorm after a Halloween party.
The training never stops at the New Britain Police Department, said Capt. William Steck, who commands the Professional Standards Division. “It’s consistent and continual, with every officer from the chief (James Wardwell) on down,” Steck said.
Not only will they do in-service training, but also “on-shift” training, Steck said.
“If you’re a third-shift squad sergeant and it’s a quiet night and you want to run your guys through a building, they take advantage of that,” he said.
They’ll do barricaded-suspect, active-shooter and hostage training with the officers who are working a shift, he added. There is someone from every shift who can run the Milo simulator as well. “Our training just doesn’t take place during a set time,” Steck said. “The value of doing on-shift is that you are training with the people you would be working with.”
The training staff including Sgt. Thomas Gray, Krolikowski and Officers Andrew Weaver and Joe Blansfield, will look at world events and apply what was learned from each active shooter incident to New Britain’s training methods.
The Milo Range Simulator, which takes up an entire room on the third floor, is one of the department’s tools in giving officers real life experience in dealing with active shooters. Officers will train with the simulator wearing all tools they have on the street - Glocks, just like their service weapons, but which shoot lasers instead of bullets, a Taser, and pepper spray - because the machine can simulate a suspect’s reaction to the equipment.
Instructors can change the scenario mid-session, making a suspect more violent or less violent, to give the officers a chance to deal with a variety of circumstances.
“We want them to win (when they use the Milo) and winning isn’t always about shooting the bad guy,” Krolikowski said.
The simulator was paid for through drug-asset forfeiture money and didn’t cost taxpayers a dime.
New Britain’s simulator is one of a handful in the state. It’s more cost effective than rounding up people to play victims or aggressors or using hundreds of rounds of ammunition at a range.
To augment the training, Blansfield will take officers into the basement and fire blanks that emit the same sound and smell as actual gunfire while running them through scenarios.
Officers are trained to go into a building in teams, preferably in a diamond shape, as soon as they get to an active shooter situation. “You move toward the sound of the gunfire as quickly as possible,” Weaver said.
The goal is stop the behavior, Krolikowski said. That doesn’t necessarily include killing the gunman, he pointed out.
In one Milo school shooting scenario, officers walk into a classroom to confront an active shooter who is holding a long gun to the head of a teen. People are screaming and running. There is blood on the floor and the walls.
In the seconds it takes for a reporter to shout, “Drop the gun,” the assailant put a bullet into the back of the teen’s head. The reporter is shocked and angry that she didn’t react quickly enough to save the teen, and then Blansfield called out, “Look around, what else is happening here?”
A second assailant with a gun is advancing from the back of the room. People are still running for cover. The reporter shoots and hits him. A third gunman creeps out from around a stairwell.
“Do you think that all active shooter situations are one person?” Blansfield asked after the scenario was completed. “How many shooters were there in Columbine?”
He’s referring to the school shooting in 1999 when two Littleton, Colo., high school students killed more than a dozen people. That shooting changed the way police respond to an active-shooting incident, many of the officers interviewed for this story said.
Rather than containing the scene until a tactical team arrives, as police did in 1999, the first officers on the scene now go in immediately.
“We used to arrive with lights and sirens off in a soft approach,” Weaver said. “Now we go with lights and sirens on so they know we are coming.”
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or Lbackus@centralctcommunications.com.