CERT/SWAT Training Exercise
On 05-SEP, Sterling Heights CERT participated in a SWAT training exercise with three different scenarios. I had the opportunity to view the officers in action firsthand, and I’m impressed with what I saw.
The training was a joint venture between the Warren and Sterling Heights Police Departments, and it took place at the Cinemark theater located at Universal Mall in Warren. 21 Sterling Heights CERT team members were on hand along with approximately the same number of Warren CERT team members to play the role of victims in an “active shooter” scenario conducted in a darkened movie theater.
The SWAT team members’ objective was to find and arrest the shooter and then help to triage and evacuate the victims. There were enough volunteer victims around to create a seriously chaotic set of circumstances for the officers, who went into the scenario knowing as little as possible beforehand.
In one of the scenarios, we were asked to run in a panic out of the theater into the mall as the Sterling Heights SWAT team entered the building. Coincidentally, I happened to match the description of the off-duty police officer who was playing the role of the shooter (yellow shirt and goatee), and as I ran past the officers streaming into the lobby, they grabbed me and detained me outside until they were able to ascertain that I wasn’t the person they were looking for.
Let me tell you, I’ve got a newfound respect for SWAT teams. Having never been in trouble with the law, I’ve never considered what it might be like to find myself face-down on the floor with my hands behind my back, as a police officer kneels beside me, making sure I don’t make any move to get away. Even though I knew it was a simulation and I wasn’t going to jail, I wasn’t expecting to be grabbed and detained, and I could feel my stress level go into the stratosphere when they ordered me down on the floor and put my hands behind my back. Much to my amusement, one of my fellow CERT members, Dianne Thiel, claimed to officers to be my wife, and continuing with what was some very serious role-play, she was ordered to stand back. And when I say I was grabbed, I mean it; someone caught hold of my t-shirt and it tore a bit, and suddenly I looked like one of the perps on Cops.
I must say the officers showed a great deal of restraint-I was ordered down when I could have been thrown down, and after only a few minutes was told I could relax and not have my arms behind my back any longer. You could tell the men were working on pure adrenalin, and because I looked just a little bit like who they were looking for, they took no chances. So I am impressed with how carefully I was actually treated and how quickly they reacted to seeing somebody who might have been the scenario’s “shooter”. The actual guy they were looking for — a big, muscular cop who works for the Warren department — thought it was funny they had mistaken me for him. I guess it was!
In another scenario, we were asked to meet at the site of an abandoned restaurant to which the Warren Police had access. The story was that a distraught boyfriend (the same shooter from the theater) had chosen to confront his cheating girlfriend with a gun at the former Bill Knapps restaurant on 12 Mile. The “girlfriend” was our CERT team’s Sin Ng, and the rest of the hostages were a combination of members from the two CERT teams. We got to watch first hand as the hostage negotiation team worked over a dedicated-line telephone to talk the gunman down peacefully, a process which took over an hour.
There were problems that arose during the two of the scenarios that I participated in. In the movie-theater shooter scenario, several SWAT team members looked directly at their targeted assailant and failed to realize he was their man. In the hostage negotiation scenario, there was an initial communications problem with the telephone setup they were using to negotiate with the gunman. These problems added an element of realism and made what was already a stressful situation even more so for the police officers, but they reacted as well as possible. As one of the officers commented, the guys who didn’t identify the shooter in the movie theater scenario won’t ever make that mistake again — which is fortunate, since if it happened in real life they would have been shot.
All in all, it was a fascinating day, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching these guys at work and being able to participate in their training to help make Sterling Heights a safer place to live. The police do not have an easy job, and an active shooter in a darkened movie theater is a nightmare scenario for them. It is good to see they have had some practice in case it ever happens for real. As for me, I think I’ll wear my “Sterling Heights Police” t-shirt the next time I participate in one of these exercises. Size XL, fellas…