PLAINS TWP. – Clad in camouflage and body armor and toting tactical weapons, police swept through the Leo Solomon Elementary School on Saturday morning in search of an armed shooter.
Two by two, members of the seven-officer squad burst into classrooms, swept through them in search of the shooter, clearing six classrooms and two restrooms in less than a minute's time.
The gunman scenario was not real; it was a training exercise carried out by a newly formed unit of the Plains Township Police Department. The school was empty, apart from a few onlookers from the township board of commissioners, but the type of situation for which they were preparing became national news late last year in New England.
Officers had been selected for the unit prior to the fatal shootings of 20 students and six adults in December at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., said Sgt. Ron Dombroski, head of the tactical unit.
But the Newtown tragedy did spur the department and the township to action.
That's what triggered everything, said township Commissioner Rob Sax. We're trying to be proactive, rather than reactive.
Commissioner Jerry Yozwiak added, Any more, it's not ‘if' it's going to happen, it's when and where.
The training was carried out with the approval of the Wilkes-Barre Area School District, which also has provided the department with maps of district schools. The maps, said Sax, will be loaded into the department's in-vehicle computers, allowing police to quickly plot their entry points in the event of a school emergency.
The police department received startup aid and training from the Emergency Services Unit of the Wilkes-Barre Police Department, a unit trained to respond to similar scenarios, Dombroski said.
In addition to practicing for school emergencies, said Dombroski, the unit trains roughly twice a month to prepare for high-risk warrant serving, active shooter scenarios, barricaded suspects with and without hostages, terrorist attacks and natural disasters.
Sax added that the unit also could be useful in the event of an incident at the Mohegan Sun Casino or one of several government buildings in the township. He hopes the unit eventually will be able to assist other area departments.
The goal is to get us trained first, said Sax, and if somebody needs assistance we could go and help out, and maybe train other departments in the area.