(Crystal A. Proxmire, Aug. 27, 2013)
Dripping in sweat beneath body armor and masks, police from several cities moved deftly in tight formation through Jefferson Middle School in Pontiac, with guns drawn and eyes wide open. Following the sounds of a shotgun blast, they coordinated to clear the hallways and classrooms until they found their gunman hiding in a room with a chalkboard and empty desks. Back and forth gunfire ensured until the shooter, Ferndale Sgt. Dan Simon, fell to the floor.
The scene played out over and over through the day as part of active shooter training for Oakland County’s Tactical Response Coordinating Group (OakTac). Apart from several welts where the non-lethal training bullets bruised him through his green safety training gear, Sgt. Simon and the other participants were unharmed. The school was empty except for the officers and, for a short time, members of the press who had to wear facemasks while in the room where the training rounds were being used.
“I spent an hour and a half with the Chief from Sandy Hook and got very detailed second by second brief of how it played and the kinds of things that happened,” Bouchard said. “So you try to learn lessons from other states, other countries, when they have tragedies and prepare for them. It’s like buying fire insurance, you hope and pray that you never have to use it, but you buy it anyway.”
OakTac brings together nearly every police force in the county, and makes sure they are using the same tactics and communications methods. Training like that done on Tuesday gives them practice working with officers from other departments and gives them practice in high-stress scenarios such as a gunman in a school building. The training is also useful in other dangerous situations.
Ferndale Police Lt. William Wilson is an instructor and board member for OakTac. He also is one of the organizers of the SE Oakland SWAT Team, which includes Ferndale, Madison Heights, Berkley and Royal. Police from each department receive special training and are called upon to respond to crisis in any of the communities. “We use this several times a year,” Lt. Wilson said. “Some examples are if there is a barricaded gunman, someone who may be in a home and has a weapon that is dangerous to himself or someone else. We also use them to serve high risk warrants. And the NET [Narcotics Enforcement Team, of Oakland County] uses this type of training.”
Police Chief Timothy Collins said that the most recent use of the SWAT team was last week. “There was a carjacking, and the car was found in Madison Heights at a warehouse. The fear was there was an armed assailant in the building. That turned out not to be the case, but having this training and that team makes it safer for those who are going out to protect the public,” he said.
While many communities are active on the OakTac team, Ferndale has a large role. In 1984 a hostage situation stunned the community and showed the value of tactical training. It prompted the department to become the first small city in the area to create its own tactical team.
On July 3, 1984 a gunman walked into the Rialto on Woodward, which is now Dino’s Lounge, and took a waitress hostage. The man let people leave, but shot two, including the waitress and Detective Dan Bolen who had been there having coffee. After a four hour standoff, Ferndale Police moved in and took the gunman out. The waitress died, as did the gunman. Officers who had done tactical training through the county played a key role in stopping the man from doing more harm.
By 1986 Ferndale had a top-notch SWAT program going, which Wilson was a part of. They grew to include other communities, and several Ferndale Policemen are certified trainers that work with cities even beyond immediate neighbors. They’re also heavily involved with OakTac, with staff like Sgt. Simon willing to be literally in the line of fire so that others can learn.
“When OakTac started up, and there was grant money and all that to get it started, they considered bringing in outside consultants to come in and train. The discussion as ‘who do we hire?’ But we said, ‘Why hire anybody? We’ve got experts just as good as anybody and we know our local areas, our local customs, the things we all face,” Chief Collins said. “So instead of bringing in outside people, we developed even more training and expertise right here in our local departments.”
Sheriff Bouchard said that by the time the trainings are over with, over 1,000 local police will have been trained in the same active shooter response tactics. In addition, his office has conducted 29 classes for people who work in schools about how to respond to a situation with a gunman.
Watch video of the training at http://youtu.be/u4T-ue_HgNU.