Checking Officers In
Officers check into Niceville's quarterly active shooter drill. Officers are checked for live rounds in order to ensure nothing goes wrong during the exercise.
Training Rounds
Officers use training rounds, which work a lot like paintballs, in order to train for active shooter drills.
Niceville Police
Officers prepare for the active shooter drill. The drill takes place once per quarter to ensure the officers are ready to face an active shooter situation in the city.
Chief Popwell Briefs The Officers
Chief Popwell speaks to the situation officers will enter when an active shooter has been identified. Officers are expected to continue the fight, despite hardship or injuries, until they are dead or the shooter is dead or apprehended.
Officers go over the laws and regulations that cover active shooter situations in the State of Florida. While officers are covered by state law's feasibility clause when it comes to the shooting of an armed suspect - they face liability from shooting and killing civilians, members of the school guardian program, or officers from other agencies.
A training round used in the Active Shooter scenario that took place on Tuesday, November 21, 2023.
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Preparing For Something That Can Happen Anywhere

Black boots and police caps shuffled into the Police Academy building on Northwest Florida State College’s campus and out of the rain. 

Before officers can go more than two steps inside the door – another Niceville Police Officer pats everyone entering the building. They want to make sure no one is carrying a weapon with live ammunition into the building. 

Today, the night shift members will train for an active shooter situation in the city.

Magazines filled with rounds that work like paintballs – and taped blue at the bottom of the hilt to signify they are loaded with less-than-lethal ammunition are spread out along two of the tables in the foyer. 

The officers gather around Chief Popwell and prepare to practice both fighting and killing an active shooter by themselves – as well as in small groups. 

Although the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office has a SWAT team (now called a Special Response Team – or SRT), the first officers to respond to an active shooter situation at schools or other heavily populated areas in the city will be Niceville Police Officers – simply because they are closer. In a real-life situation, it could be about an hour before SWAT can assemble, respond, and be on the site of an active shooter situation. 

Chief Popwell wants his officers to understand the gravity of the situation now – so they can respond more effectively and to the best of their abilities later. “I hope they get enlightenment,” Chief said, “about how truly scary this really is. I hope they take that back with them so that they remember it when they are out in the field.”

It would be on the officers of the Niceville Police Department to respond swiftly with whatever they got. The mass killing at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde sits at the front of the Chief’s mind. He brings it up several times throughout the training. [“We are not going to make the same mistakes they made in Uvalde.”]

The Niceville Police Department holds Active Shooter Training once per quarter. Everyone cannot make it to every training – after all, some of the officers on the 26-person force need to be on the roads – but the Chief expects regular training and preparation to take place for this situation. 

What the Officers Learn

Niceville PD booted me before they went into the tactics, procedures, and strategies – they want to keep how they respond to themselves. But, they went over some hard lessons in depth before they went into the how. 

  • Officers will want to help people who are already hurt. That isn’t the officer’s job. Their job is to eliminate the threat. Slowing down to render aid gives an active shooter more time to kill. 
  • Injured officers in an active shooter situation are expected to keep fighting. “When can you die?” Popwell asked the officers rhetorically, “When I tell you that you can die.” Popwell added, “The only time you should stop is if you pass out from blood loss.”
  • Staying calm is the best skill an officer (and a regular Joe like you and me) can have. Whether you are preparing to engage the shooter or you’ve been shot and are bleeding – staying calm will keep you alive longer. 
  • What you do in your day-to-day life to prepare matters. Officers are encouraged to maintain a go-bag with several items. First among these is a number of flashlights. “I don’t care how many times you change the batteries; you will have a chance to click the light, and nothing happens,” Popwell explained to his officers.
  • The new Guardian program has added a new element of risk for the officers from both a liability and safety perspective. The program allows some teachers and other school personnel to carry guns for the protection of students – should the school board allow it. Okaloosa County does participate in the program. “Lawyers got it better than we do; judges got it better than we do. Doctors got it better. Why? They’ve got plenty of people around them to second-guess. To help them out. You got a millisecond to look and see, ‘Is this guy a good guy or a bad guy?” Chief Popwell said to a silent, attentive audience. Popwell added that the officers would have to deal with a shooter, knowing whether or not someone with a gun in their hands is a friend or enemy, as well as a smorgasbord of other officers responding to the scene they may not know – and might be in plain clothes. 
  • There is a chance you could die, and there is a chance you may have to kill someone. If you are not okay with that, you will need to change your line of work. 

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