With the shock of two U.S. mass shootings last weekend still lingering, Fulton County law enforcement departments say they’re as prepared as is possible to face a potential local threat.
Last Saturday morning in an El Paso, Texas, Walmart store 22 people were killed, and more than two dozen were injured. The carnage is being designated one of the 10 worst mass shootings in the country’s history.
Just hours later a shooting in a popular Dayton nightlife area killed nine people and injured over two dozen more.
Local law enforcement say they’ve been well-trained should such an incident ever occur in the county.
Fayette Police Chief Jason Simon said his four full-time and two part-time officers have participated in solo engagement seminars, both in the village and in Cleveland. The training involves various scenarios, some in which the shooter can be talked out of continuing, some which involve eliminating an uncooperative perpetrator.
“We train as much as we can get our hands on time,” Simon said.
The department also plans additional training through video technology provided by Active Tactical Solutions, a Fayette gun store.
Simon said a single police officer is on patrol at any given time, but can react to a shooting within the village in two to three minutes. During that time backup by the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office would be requested.
He said his presence at village council meetings offers protection, but said the department doesn’t have the manpower to oversee every village venue.
Wauseon police are involved in scenario-based training for a mass shooting event at least once each year, Police Chief Kevin Chittenden said. The department held three training sessions in 2018; two were mock events at Wauseon High School. Between them, the three sessions involved the cooperation of the city fire department, the Fulton County Health Center, tactical rescue teams, and the county sheriff’s office.
The city’s police have trained for a mass shooting event the past 13 years, and can cross the city in an emergency in less than three minutes, Chittenden said. The department also has an emergency call-out system in place for mass disasters, and is always on alert, he said.
“There’s always that concern. That’s why we train – to be as prepared as possible,” the chief said.
But while a police representative, usually Chittenden, attends all Wauseon City Council meetings, he doesn’t believe heavy security is necessary during every city event.
“In Fulton County, no. But it’s just so hard to predict when these type of instances will occur,” he said. “And we just don’t have the manpower to provide security at every meeting and every venue. These attacks are just so random.”
Despite seemingly continuous news coverage of shootings across the country, “they are still very rare as far as actual occurrences,” Chittenden said. “(But) on the whole, the department is well-prepared. They do a real good job in understanding the concept of what we need to do.”
Archbold police officers have been trained through the Solo Encounter For Active Shooters program held by Owens Community College in Perrysburg, Ohio. The officers learned to respond to an active shooter without assistance, and continue to train whenever possible. They have participated in mock shooting events in Wauseon.
Police Chief Leo Wixom, who is a certified ALICE instructor, said in the event of an active shooter the village would also call for help from outside law enforcement. That might include a SWAT team developed between the cities of Wauseon and Napoleon and the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office.
Of Archbold’s 10 full-time police officers, two are usually on patrol during each shift. Wixom said they can respond to any event in five to seven minutes. He concedes that’s a long response time, but said the only way to shorten it would be to have more manpower.
“It’s the concern of every law enforcement agency,” he said.
A police presence is not often available at village council or school board meetings. “Those are one of those things that are a concern, but we can’t be every place at one time,” Wixom said.
Out of concern, however, for the increase in mass shootings, the department has named Nate Slough its first school resource officer. He will be assigned to the village’s schools beginning this academic year.
“It can happen anywhere at any time, so we just have to prepare the guys that we have for something like that,” Wixom said of shootings. “We always have to be proactive. It’s our responsibility to try to keep everybody safe that’s in the community, and we will try our best to do that.“
Community members can help by reporting suspicious behavior, he said. “If they see something, even if it’s only a suspicion, they should call. I would rather handle a thousand false calls then one real call.”
Fulton County Sheriff Roy Miller said in recent years tactical training has focused on situations where a single officer must handle a shooter. “You go in and eliminate the threat,” he said. “There’s no negotiation.”
The county’s deputies train once or twice annually for a shooting, some through the Wauseon and Napoleon police departments. The sheriff’s office also advocates ALICE training.
In an emergency situation, a deputy would likely receive back-up from local community law enforcement and the Ohio State Highway Patrol. “Our biggest goal is safety and preservation of life,” Miller said.
With about 420 square miles of county to cover, the typically five deputies on patrol at a given time can respond within four to six minutes. Miller said response time can be a concern due to the size of the county and the fact that a shooting could occur in any part of it.
That’s where the public can help, he said.
“People here who see things, they just need to report it. If it bothers you enough to make a phone call, then make that phone call,” Miller said. “We’re going to attempt to get there as fast as we can, as soon as we can. We won’t be driving 45 to a shooting.”
From the training he’s witnessed, he feels confident of his deputies’ abilities.
“If something’s going on, we’re going to save lives and take the threat out. That’s the way it’s going to be,” Miller said. “I pray that we never have to deal with anything like this. But you have to be prepared.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.