Lessons Learned At Active Shooter Class

Southampton Town Police Lt. Todd Spencer led an active shooter training session at the Hampton Library on Saturday, April 27, at precisely the same time a shooter attacked a synagogue in California. Independent/Justin Meinken

The Southampton Town Police, as part of a program to educate the public about what to do if confronted by the sudden, horrific appearance of an active shooter in their midst, held a two-hour seminar in Bridgehampton on the topic April 27.

At the same time Southampton Town Police Lt. Todd Spencer conducted a mock “active shooter” demonstration at the Hampton Library Saturday, a 19-year-old shooter in Poway, CA, shot and killed one and wounded three more, including a rabbi, at the Chabad of Poway Synagogue. Poway is 25 miles north of San Diego.

The Poway shooting followed, almost exactly, the script Lt. Spencer laid out as a cautionary tale 3000 miles away for the approximately 30 people in attendance. The Poway shooting was brief, lasting, at most, about 90 seconds, as Spencer said most attacks are. Lt. Spencer told those at the library that the average mass shooting event lasts about three minutes. The Poway shooting ended long before police could arrive, as Spencer told the audience is almost always the case.

In addition, Spencer said that reacting, as opposed to remaining passive, can interrupt a shooter’s pattern, and save lives. In Poway, worshippers attending services for the last day of Passover, did react. Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein, who was shot in the hands by the gunman, and ended up losing an index finger in surgery, said at a press conference the day afterward, that after he was shot in the hands, he realized there were children playing in a banquet hall off the main lobby of the synagogue. The wounded rabbi went in and urged the children to leave the building, as did another worshipper.

It appears that the Poway shooter’s gun jammed, likely saving many lives. “Miraculously, just miraculously, the gun jammed,” Rabbi Goldstein said about the shooter at the press conference in Poway.

Spencer gave his audience a series of tips.

First, always know where the alternate exits are wherever you go. Often times, people die because, in a panic, they all head toward the same exit, he said.

When you hear something unusual, like screams or the sound of what may seem to be firecrackers, even though you are indoors, Spencer said, take it seriously.

“If you see something, say something,” Spencer said, urging his listeners to contact the police.

Spencer urged the public to be alert to erratic behavior, either in person or via social media. A couple of the telltale signs a potential shooter might exhibit are expressions of suicidal or paranoid thoughts, or a seeming obsession with previous mass murders.

While school shootings gain the most attention, other targets shooters favor can be the work place, or other public places.

Always have a plan, Spencer urged. Hiding is not usually the best choice, unless you have a secondary plan of what to do if you are found by the shooter.

Spencer conducted two simulations of a mass shooting. For his first volunteer shooter, he chose a woman who had never fired a gun before. His only instructions to those in the hall was that they should run from her. Armed with a toy large-capacity gun that fires small rubber balls, she was able to hit many in the hall, even as they ran toward the back exit.

Next, he chose a man in the audience who was well versed in handling guns to play the role of the shooter. Unbeknown to this mock shooter, though, Spencer handed out sponge balls for the audience to throw at him as they escaped. Despite being familiar with guns, the second mock shooter hit far fewer victims, and was actually subdued by those in the hall.

Why the obvious acceleration of active shooting incidents in America? It was difficult for Spencer to put his finger on the exact reason we are seeing more and more of these incidents in America. There appears to be some link between the explosion of social media and the mushrooming number of active shooter incidents, but it is impossible to quantify.

Arming the public is not a solution to the problem, Spencer said, unless the person carrying the weapon is professionally trained. In Poway, one of the worshipers, Jonathan Morales, was a border patrol agent. Morales shot at the shooter as he was escaping, missing him, but hitting his car.

The growing number of guns in America may be a factor, but, again, as with social media, the connection between more guns and active shooter incidents across the country has not yet been quantified.

Poway is home to the largest gun supply store and indoor shooting range in the San Diego area.

Groups that are interested in having Lt. Spencer, or another member of his team, lead an active shooter class for their organization, can contact him at [email protected] or by phoning his office at 631-702-2259.

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