Brittney Lofthouse – Staff Writer
“The first and last school shooting in the United States should have been Columbine,” said Michael Anderson, community development and training manager for the N.C. Center for Safer Schools, part of the state’s Department of Public Instruction. “But because it wasn’t, we are here today to learn how to make the last school shooting we read about in the news the last one. We need to learn what we are doing right, and what we can do better.”
Anderson was in Macon County last week working with the Macon County Sheriff’s Office as they conducted active shooter training at East Franklin Elementary School during Spring Break, with no students in class.
Macon County is one of just four districts among North Carolina’s 115 to have a resource officer in every school. Recognizing the innovative, proactive approach the Macon County Sheriff’s Office takes in regards to school safety, Congressman Mark Meadows participated in last week’s active shooter training to see firsthand what the county is doing with plans to personally meet with President Donald Trump in the coming weeks to inform the president of what is happening in Macon County and why it needs to be replicated throughout the country.
“What I saw in Macon County last week was a law enforcement team totally dedicated to doing everything they can to keep our children safe in school,” said Meadows. “Their proactive, multifaceted, and in-depth training regimen is exactly the type of preparation our communities need on a local level to increase school security. I’m grateful to Sheriff Holland and every one of the deputies at the Macon County Sheriff’s Department for their service, and I thank them for allowing me to be a part of their training session.”
The multi-day training involved real life scenarios and simulations on how law enforcement should respond in the event of the presence of a shooter in a county school. The entire department rotated through the training in shifts over several days and each worked with Anderson, as well as MCSO training officers to cover different scenarios and approaches.
“As an agency we are always preparing ourselves to deal with worse case scenarios and this specialized training with highly qualified instructors allows officers to get as close to an actual event as possible,” said Sheriff Robert Holland. “As we have seen portrayed via the media in Florida, you just never know how an officer will react until you are placed in a position of an actual high stress and dangerous event. Our officers train continuously so that they will be able to fulfill their obligation to protect their community and hopefully survive the risks associated with answering the call of threats made against the safety of any member of the public which includes our students in a school setting. This type of intense training we have been doing for several years and I have no doubt my officers would risk everything to stop an active shooter.”
The training put officers in different drills that had them responding using simulation gear. Macon County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Tony Carver explained to Congressman Meadows that the simulation weapons and bullets used in the training were an integral part of the training and allowed officers to safely train using real life scenarios in stress situations.
“This is as close to real life as you can get, without actually responding to a school shooting,” explained Carver. “This isn’t something you can learn in a classroom. This puts you in the middle of a shooter scenario. Your blood is pumping. Your adrenaline is heightened and you are faced with having to make split second decisions that could mean life or death in these situations.”
When asked how Congress could better help the department, Congressman Meadows was told additional funding for the type of training would be beneficial.
“For everything you see here we are using today to train our officers, it took us several years to obtain,” said Carver. “We bought simulation weapons 2 or 3 here or there as funds were available. It took eight years or so just to have the equipment we have today that even allows us to do this training. It only cost $15,000 or so all together, but we have to piece-meal it together because there are other needs.”
Meadows requested videos of the training to personally meet with the president and show the type of training the Macon County Sheriff’s Office is conducting and demonstrate why it’s important to ensure that all school districts and law enforcement have access to the needed equipment.