Owensboro Police Department is in the middle of hosting its second annual Youth Citizens Academy, where high school upperclassmen and college students are able to learn the ins and outs of police work through a three-week program.
The academy gives students the chance to learn about and, sometimes perform the actions of law enforcement they are trained to carry out. Different topics of study include traffic stops, emergency response team (ERT), hazardous devices, accident reconstruction, evidence collection, street crimes, computer electronics and forensics, DUIs and the K9 unit.
On Tuesday, 12 students in the program were trained by members of OPD’s ERT unit — similar to other cities’ SWAT units — where they spent a majority of the three-hour class going over training tactics related to mass shootings.
OPD Public Information Officer Andrew Boggess said the academy sessions will run twice a week for three weeks.
OPD Traffic Unit Officer Aaron Conratto said those in the ERT require more training because of the high-stress situations they’re involved in. Aside from the monthly, quarterly and annual training that’s required, each officer must take an additional 80 hours of classes at squad school, including a one-year probation period as a squad operator, before they can become a full-time member of the ERT.
“The reason why we spend a little more time in training is because we have more equipment that we can use to come up with a better resolution,” Contratto said. “To keep officers, civilians and, even suspects a little safer, we can use our tools that will provide the necessary steps to do that.”
During Tuesday’s Youth Citizens Academy session, participants learned the basic structure of the ERT and the type of calls they answer. Because mass and school shootings are such a prominent event occurring across the U.S., OPD felt the students would benefit from learning how to handle those situations should they arise.
“I think they learned quite a bit, especially with this school safety round of the academy. They actually learned a lot,” Contratto said. “Today we explained, ‘These are the tools that we have, that we can use,’ and everybody likes looking at toys. And then, because everybody’s concerned about active shooter scenarios right now, we taught them what we prefer them to do in those situations.”
Contratto said they taught students the visual cues that both officers and civilians can look out for when determining who a shooting suspect is in a crowd of people, such as an elevated heart rate, sweating and glancing around nervously.
“We said numerous times to them, ‘What we need the most is a really good witness,’” he said. “If you can, without putting yourself in harm’s way, call dispatch and [describe the suspect], or even get a phone snap and say, ‘He was in this room, wearing this,’ that really helps us decide which direction we need to go. Getting real-time information is so helpful for us — that’s one reason why today’s cell phones are so awesome.”
Contratto said many kids are being taught three-pronged emergency response when it comes to handling an active shooter.
“Fight, hide or run — you can run, you can hide, or you can fight,” he said. “These are the three options being presented. If you want to run, run fast and get away. If you want to hide, hide in a good spot — if he makes entry, the next thing you can do is run or fight. If it gives us a little more time to get there, maybe we can resolve the situation, but that’s what’s being taught because of what’s going on in the world right now.”
Giving students an idea of what can happen in today’s world is important, Contratto said, because there’s nothing worse than someone involved in one of these situations who, in the moment, tries to do the right thing and makes the situation worse by becoming a victim. Proper training, especially when done through professional law enforcement agencies, can make a huge difference if and when these kids are ever thrust into an active shooter situation, he explained.