Cops and Courts

Active shooter drill at Arnold Hall helps university cops prepare for the worst

“Help! He’s got a gun! He’s got a gun! Help! Help!”

A woman screaming for help runs down a narrow hallway in Arnold Hall Monday afternoon, passing empty bullet casings strewn about the floor.  

As she turns the corner, looking for a way out, two West Virginia University Police officers appear, guns drawn.

They pass by the woman – she was on her way to safety.  

The officers press on down the hallway, quickly locating their target inside a dorm room. 

As one of the officers enter the room, the second stops in the doorway, turning quickly to keep his eyes and weapon on potential dangers lurking in the hallway.

BANG! A shot is heard from inside the room – the shooter had taken his own life.

Fortunately, this active shooter situation was hypothetical and part of a training for officers at the WVU Police Department.

However, this scenario is something some are all too familiar with – an active shooter in a school or university building with the intent of taking other’s lives before taking their own.

Officers are trained on different active shooter scenarios to make sure the department is prepared for anything.  

UPD Capt. Matthew Swain, who oversees training and emergency management for the department, said that with everything we have seen happen with active shooters across the country, the department wants to make sure the training scenarios are as real as possible.

“We draw upon our partners and look at what’s happened so that we can always stay up-to-date with the latest and greatest news that’s going on and make sure that we’re setting our scenarios up to be real life,” Swain said.  “We don’t want to do anything crazy.”

Monday’s training scenario was a suicide situation.

“One of the things that’s on the rise because of COVID is suicide,” Swain said.  “So an individual with a gun.  This is what will happen today and the officers will be dispatched to that and handle it.”

Swain said there are a couple basic styles of handling active shooter situations.  The first is a more traditional style where officers responding initially wait for a tactical team before entering the building.

“That’s not what we do at the university,” he said. “University police officers are being trained to act immediately.  So as soon as we hear that, as soon as we get that call – our officers are doing what they’ve signed up to do and that’s go run towards it and make sure that we’re taking care of our faculty, staff, students and community as fast and as best as we can.”

Because WVU is broken up into several campuses over a large area, officers are also divided and spread throughout, Swain said.

“That’s why it’s so important to make sure that a single officer can respond at the time and has the training that they need to be able to take care of that and make sure that they’re able to do that when the time comes.” 

Swain said the nice thing about WVU Police is it has officers at satellite offices on the different campuses so they have the ability to have backup within seconds.

Swain said the department does a lot of different training throughout the semester that not only helps all officers stay prepared, but also helps potential victims to handle those situations.  

With so many buildings and so many students on campus in the fall and spring, the department tries to complete training like Monday’s active shooter session during the summer when the majority of students are not in town and “the panic level is not there,” Swain said.

“We want to be as prepared as possible. Not just with the university police, but with other police departments across the state and then this county, that are going to respond because officers are going to respond to it,” Swain said.  “We need to make sure that everybody has a baseline understanding of how we’re going to take care of the situation.”