Education

Training: Miami police stress the value of time in dealing with an active shooter

Sometimes even teachers need a lesson.

Roles were reversed Friday morning as South Florida police repeatedly emphasized the importance of time to Cushman School teachers seated in the Miami Police College auditorium for a symposium on what to do if an active shooter attacks.

Hosted by the Miami Police Department, the event taught faculty members how to properly respond to a mass shooting on their campus.

“It was very helpful,” said Krystal Nelson, a first-grade teaching assistant at the Miami private school. “It put us inside the actual scenario of how things might go. It causes you to think about what to do to better prepare yourself.”

The event was led by neighborhood resource officers from the department’s Shield Detail, a division focused on community outreach, who implored teachers to be aware of their surroundings at all times. Through a series of speeches ranging from spotting personality changes early and protocol once shots ring out, instructors and administrators began to understand how integral the role they play is in these situations.

“We’re not the first responders in this event — you are,” Officer Luis Gonzalez told the crowd, reiterating a mantra that was repeated several times throughout the morning. “The whole purpose of this training is to make you aware and to make you an active participant because something you might do could stop this horrific action or event from taking place.”

Putting the onus on faculty created an environment that was equal parts spirited and informative without dismissing the gravity of the subject matter. Smiles shifted to looks of disbelief as an officer’s presentation took a serious turn. Allison Luongo, a fifth-grade English teacher at Cushman, lauded Shield’s approach, which she says improved her confidence in this area.

“It was really empowering [for them] to help us be able to take care of all of our students because they’re all our kids,” Luongo said.

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Nursery Teacher Cindy Haralson from The Cushman School reacts to cellphone footage taken inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during the Parkland shooting on February 14, 2018, during an Active Shooter Preparedness Symposium hosted by the Miami Police Shield Detail at the Miami Police College auditorium in Miami, Florida, on Friday, August 23, 2019. Daniel A Varela dvarela@miamiherald.com

This was, of course, by design. Neighborhood resource officers double as the community’s resources for individual school zones throughout Miami-Dade County. An ability to make these discussions somewhat enjoyable is a must.

“All of our Shield [resource officers] are trained to break the ice ...“ Lieutenant Alfredo Delgado said, “and to keep everyone in tune to what we’re going to teach them.”

Although this event was geared toward a Miami-Dade school, it was a member of the Coral Springs Police Department in Broward County whose message truly resonated. Deputy Chief Brad McKeone, who was one of the first responders to the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last year, made a point of explaining the extremely short time frame in which these incidents generally occur. The Parkland shooting lasted less than 10 minutes; all of the casualties occurred in less than four minutes.

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Images of known school shooters are projected onto the screen during a symposium hosted by Miami police for the faculty and staff of The Cushman School. Daniel A Varela dvarela@miamiherald.com

These short windows of time require near-perfect execution. Multiple members of the Parkland community lost their lives by making the wrong split-second decision. One such person was Jaime Guttenberg, a student who was “one second” away from the stairway when she was shot and killed.

Paraphrasing a quote from Jaime father Fred, McKeone ended his speech by stressing the significance of time in the event of an active shooter:

“Just one second, if that’s what I can get back, that can make all the difference.”

An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect first name for Jaime Guttenberg.

C. Isaiah Smalls II is a reporter covering breaking and trending news for the Miami Herald. Previously, he worked for ESPN’s The Undefeated as part of their inaugural class of Rhoden Fellows. He is a graduate of both Columbia University and Morehouse College.
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