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SWAT team trains for campus shooting scenario
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SWAT team gunfire was heard on three Manteca high school campuses Tuesday.

It was part of serious training of the Manteca Police SWAT team skills if they should have to take down potential live shooters and protect students and teachers.

Various scenarios were played out first at East Union High School beginning at 8 a.m. Officers moved on to Sierra at 9:30 and then to Manteca High at 1 p.m. Participants used blank cartridges for a real life effect.

Three teams of four officers spread out over the campuses responding to reports of shots being fired.  High school students who are part of the Manteca Police Explorers handled the roles of both shooters and classmates. There were no classes in session on Tuesday.

A group of some 20 teachers were on campus at Sierra to watch the drama unfold. They got an idea of how police would respond if there was an actual shooter or shooters outside their classrooms.  The teachers said they wanted to know how best to react to protect their students.

“It was cool to see what they would do in this kind of situation,” Marcus Salcedo said.

 Chris Marlow noted “it’s good to realize how organized they are in a situation like this.

East Union’s school resource officer Shawn Cavin was in charge of the SWAT drills.  He said that if there was a hostage situation inside a classroom, there would be no hesitation as the first officer on the scene would go right in with his weapon drawn.

At East Union, Sierra and then at Manteca High sirens blared at the first report of a shooter on campus. It is the signal for teachers to lock down their students in their rooms.  Hensley said the first officers on the scene of a school shooter would be the patrol officers already on the street.

Cavin said that Sierra is unique in that it has streets on all four sides of the campus with classrooms framing a quad in the center of the school.  Containment is much easier at that site than at East Union or at Manteca High.

The officer warned teachers that if there should be a police call out on campus that they should know what to do if they are surprised by approaching patrol officers or SWAT members with guns drawn in their systematic search.

Police can’t initially tell good guys from bad guys

Cavin said officers told teachers they would not know who they were – good guy or bad guy – so put your hands up, fingers open until they identify you are a staff member.

The first of three scenarios at Sierra had a shooter that looked like a regular student fire a hand gun in the quad section of the campus.  He ran across the campus some 50 yards before pursuing SWAT members took him down on the grass.

Cavin told observing teachers at Manteca High that a confrontation with a shooter usually last no more than 10 to 15 minutes with the shooter committing suicide to end a standoff.

“It’s usually the kids who have been bullied and picked on in school that are typically the ones that come back and do something – searching out those responsible for kicking them out of school,” Cavin said.

The officer said police don’t like to immediately evacuate a school because it causes chaos.  Locking classrooms down will eliminate that chaos, he added.  Shooters will often search out noise being made in the rooms where students may be heard calling their parents on their cell phones. 

“We don’t have a play book to go by,” he said.  “Things just get thrown into the equation.  A roof shooter today can keep everyone at bay.  If a shooter gets into a classroom, you just have to fight for your life,” he said.  “It takes at least four to five hours after a shooting to complete an investigation – it’s a long process.  And, if you hear guns shots, start locking down – don’t wait for an alarm.”

Manteca Unified Superintendent Jason Messer was at Manteca High watching the SWAT team in action. 

“In reality, I don’t think we can ever be fully prepared,” Messer said.  “We need a strong partnership with law enforcement. Not all school districts are offered such scenarios.”

The superintendent said that in watching the SWAT action at East Union High School earlier in the morning he compiled a list of 15 things that must be changed on that campus to better ensure its safety.  He added that all teachers are soon going to be trained how to make an “all call” emergency public address from their rooms in case of a serious emergency on campus. 

Cavin said that following arrests of the suspects the officers have to make a mechanical sweep of campus to make sure the shooter has not possibly left things like a pipe bomb behind that could injure students and teachers.

 “This is great.,” Manteca High Principal Frank Gonzales said of the police training. “We have to prepare ourselves for a situation like this. I hope it never happens in the Manteca Unified School District. This will help us in knowing how (the police) they prepare for such a situation.” 

Police had erected signs with “Police Training in Progress” at the various entrances to the campus.  Some residents on the side streets were alerted to a possible shooting on the Manteca High campus and called authorities to report their concerns.