Local police officers gathered Saturday at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works building in Alhambra to participate in a joint training exercise organized by the Alhambra Police Department. Officers from Alhambra, Burbank, Glendale, San Fernando, San Marino, Pasadena, South Pasadena, San Gabriel, and Monterey Park practiced responding to emergency scenarios such as a hostage situation and bomb threat.
The joint training was part of an effort to address the growing number of active shooter situations in recent years, according to Capt. Elliot Kase of Alhambra PD. Kase, who helped oversee Saturday's exercise, said the training was a positive experience for the officers involved.
"The feedback from the officers was very positive," he said. "They thought it was interactive, challenging, and it's always good every time you bring different resources together."
Alhambra PD belongs to Mutual Aid Area C, a state-designated group of police departments that shares resources during an emergency. The agency invited other Area C departments to practice improving response times, especially in situations that would normally require specialty law enforcement such as shootings at schools or multilevel offices, said Sgt. Jerry Johnson of Alhambra PD.
“It was a lesson we learned from Columbine. What happened was that the police were more focused on setting up a perimeter instead of just coming in,” Johnson said, referring to a 1999 school shooting in Colorado during which two students killed 12 classmates and a teacher before killing themselves.
“What we should do is immediately engage once we have about four or five police officers. We’re not just going to sit and wait,” he said.
Teams of six to eight officers responded to scenarios inside the Public Works building on Fremont Avenue and Orange Street Saturday, such as an active shooter, an improvised explosive device (IED), and a disgruntled employee with undetermined motives. Students from local high schools volunteered to act as the shooters, hostages, and employees, playing extremely loud music and firing blanks at officers to simulate the often loud and stressful environment in an emergency.
After each drill, police officers drove to the Southern California Edison parking lot two blocks away from the location. The departments gathered for a debriefing after all the drills were completed to discuss the lessons learned.
Saturday’s exercise was not without its challenges, according to Johnson. Police radio frequencies overlapped with each other and complicated communication between the command center, where police chiefs from different departments relayed instructions, and the officers at the scene of the incident. Some officers had little knowledge of the building’s layout, which delayed their response time while they searched for stairwells and specific locations. Officers also had to learn how to address members from other departments in “plain talk,” simplifying commands specific to their department into more basic terms.