The names of the towns Columbine and Sandy Hook evoke tragic memories for most in this nation. The former is a fading memory and the latter is still raw for many. For Sgt. Lewis Woodard, training officer for the Robeson County Sheriff’s Office and adjunct law enforcement instructor at Robeson Community College, those names validate the work he does every day to make sure that such tragedies don’t happen here.
This past week Woodard and Detective Ricky Williams and Lt. Eldon Alford spent three days at three different schools in the county leading groups of law enforcement officers through an active shooter training class, called Rapid Deployment. Williams and Alford are also adjunct instructors for Robeson Community College.
Woodard says that law enforcement officers across the country learned some hard lessons during the Columbine incident and they continue to learn and train with each passing incident. Before Columbine the standard in a shooting incident was to “contain” the shooters. Tragically law enforcement officers learned that often shooters continue to shoot and innocent victims continue to die during the time lapse that occurs with containment.
The Rapid Deployment actions officers master in Woodard’s class help them to take a more aggressive and proactive approach to stopping an active shooter in effort to minimize the loss of innocent lives.
Woodard incorporated “simunitions” into Rapid Deployment training when he took over as training officer for the Sheriff’s Office eight years ago. Simunitions involves the use of ammunition that closely simulates real ammunition, but is non-lethal, in order to give officers an experience that mimics reality as closely as possible without endangering their lives.
Simunition ammo is fired from a fully functioning service weapon that has been outfitted with a barrel chambered specifically for simunition ammo. When the simunition cartridge is fired and strikes a person or object, a soap pellet explodes and leaves a mark indicating a hit. Participants in the training must wear full facial helmets, neck protection, vests, groin protectors and gloves to minimize injuries. The helmets also restrict field of vision which officers in live situations are likely to experience as an effect of a natural adrenaline rush.
Woodard began the training eight years ago at Lumberton High School and credits former Lumberton Principal Steve Gaskins with supporting the training there. When Gaskins later became an assistant superintendent for the Public Schools of Robeson County, he asked Woodard to expand the training throughout the school system.
For several years Woodard conducted the training in high schools, but three years ago he saw the need to train in elementary and middle schools where he also began doing school safety inspections.
Woodard tries to keep Robeson County ahead of the curve. He notes that very few agencies conduct the training every year. A couple of years ago when the state attorney general issued a recommendation for departments to conduct the training every year, Sheriff Kenneth Sealey asked, “Aren’t we already doing that?”
Woodard replied that not only did they conduct the training every year, but that every deputy with the Sheriff’s Department is mandated to go through the training every year. A deputy who has been with the sheriff’s office for eight years has gone through Rapid Deployment training at least eight times.
Pamela Hilbert, Robeson Community College president, visited Magnolia Elementary School on Tuesday as Woodard, Williams, and Alford put 15 officers to the test, including one from the Highway Patrol. On Wednesday these same instructors led 21 more officers from the Sheriff’s Department and Highway Patrol through the training at Deep Branch Elementary. On Thursday the trainers had another group at Oxendine Elementary.
We hope no officer ever has to use this training, but the public can be assured that if it ever becomes necessary locally, our officers have received the best training available.
For information about Robeson Community College’s Law Enforcement training opportunities, contact Barbara Sampson at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 910-272-3650.
Dennis Watts is the public information officer for Robeson Community College, and may be reached at email@example.com, or 910-225-4141