In the halls of Bennington's Pine Creek Elementary School on Thursday afternoon, the situation seemed serious.
The training setup for recruits in the Omaha police academy was eerily similar to an event that's dominated the headlines for the past few weeks: a shooter who had made his way into a school, with students inside.
But in this school, the weapons were loaded with blanks, and the victims were young volunteers from the Omaha Police Department's Explorer program.
The training session, which also included several hours of classroom instruction, is part of the regular course for all recruit classes in Omaha. It was added to the academy's curriculum in 1999, after the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado. In 2011, “active shooter” training became a requirement for police academies across Nebraska.
Officers with the Omaha Police Department also participate in similar mandatory training scenarios, which are held in schools, businesses and homes. Thursday's school training was scheduled long before the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut.
Sgt. Jake Ritonya, who supervises the recruits, said situations with an active shooter are unpredictable and chaotic, so it's important that officers know how to remain calm and get things under control as quickly as possible.
Having prepared for that kind of scenario is important for officers who could encounter the real thing.
“When they enter into that type of environment, we don't want that to be the very first time,” Ritonya said. “So we add in the stress of the fire alarm, the chaos, the victims screaming.”
In a statement, Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle praised the department for its efforts.
“Our police officers are among the best prepared in the nation to respond to an active shooter situation. I thank all in the department for their long-standing commitment to the safety of area students and classrooms,” he said.
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