BIRD ISLAND – Gunshots rang out in the hallways of the former Bird Island Elementary School as law enforcement officers in tactical gear, weapons raised, rushed towards the spring amid deafening music, darkness and smoke.
On Wednesday and Thursday, law enforcement officers from the Renville County Sheriff’s Office and all county police departments participated in training led by Mission Critical Concepts. That this training came in the wake of the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, was due to circumstances.
The Renville County Sheriff’s Office had hoped to hold the training just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but had to hit the pause button because of it, said Jason Mathwig, chief deputy of the county sheriff’s office. of Renville. Fundraising and donations from the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Blue Line in Renville County have made it possible to provide the training now.
It’s about training officers on how to respond and effectively incapacitate someone who wants to cause harm in a public place, Mathwig said.
“The more training they get, the more professional they are, the better they will be at what they do,” said Dave Sohm, Mission Critical Concepts.
Sohm is a veteran of law enforcement work in North Dakota and Kansas and with the St. Paul Police Department. He led a team of two trainers who also brought their own years of experience in military service and law enforcement as well as SWAT teams.
Officers from the Renville County Sheriff’s Office and the Olivia, Renville, Fairfax and Hector Police Departments brought a range of their own experience. There were three officers new to the profession as well as veterans who have decades of service in the county and their communities.
Each participant committed to an eight-hour program that included mock events in school hallways. The training focused on “quick reaction force” tactics developed by the military and adapted to law enforcement situations.
The fictional events in the dark and noisy hallways were designed to simulate the confusion and chaos that agents would encounter in a real-life situation.
One of the most important aspects of training is to acclimate officers to the enormous stress they would experience when responding to an active shooter incident, Sohm said.
The other is the importance of the training itself. Officers need to know how to respond and work together, and practice, practice, and practice.
This recent training is a continuation of an initiative started by the Sheriff’s Office in 2018. That’s when the office began offering active shooter and hostile intruder response training in local schools, workplaces and daycares, according to Mathwig. Interest and response have been good, he added.
There was a time when a formation like this might have been met with some skepticism by those who thought rural areas were safe from such events. Too many recent events have shown otherwise.
Mathwig and Sohm said all officers attending the training arrived fully aware that they might one day be called upon to respond to a real situation.
At the heart of it all, training is about saving lives, Mathwig and Sohm said.
This could include the lives of officers. Sohm said a Navy SEAL friend of his told him a long time ago, “Your job is way more dangerous than mine.”
As a Navy SEAL, he enters dangerous situations with a good idea of what to expect. Law enforcement generally does not have this advantage.
“You walk to the door. You have no idea what you’re getting into,” Sohm said.
He and Mathwig said they want the Renville County public to know that law enforcement is doing something about the threats that exist today. Every citizen should know that these guys will be there and able to respond professionally and actively if the worst happens, Sohm explained.
“We are preparing for this event that we pray will never happen,” he said.