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.
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.