WINNSBORO — Partnership and accessibility were the themes as the Fairfield County Sheriff Department’s Citizens Academy met Tuesday night.
A live demonstration by the county’s special response team was one of the highlights of the evening. Captain Brad Douglas gave a presentation about active shooter cases and how collaborative law enforcement responses have changed since shootings at Columbine High School in 1999.
Prior to Columbine, officers were trained to arrive on the scene, contain the area and wait for backup to arrive. Once the SWAT team arrived they would engage the threat. EMS had to wait until a scene were secured before they could help wounded people, costing critical time.
Now officers are trained to approach the gunfire and engage the threat from the get go. They also provide escort to EMS responders so they can triage victims and treat them prior to a scene being secured.
The FCSD has a two-pronged approach to handling active shooter events in schools. The first piece that studies have shown to be crucial is officer presence in the schools which can provide actionable intelligence that an event is about to occur. Deputies on patrol stop by schools daily to show presence which also reduces the likelihood of an outsider entering the school with a weapon.
The other side of the approach is the reactionary plan. For 10 years the FCSD has provided its deputies with active shooter training scenarios. That means the officers are more experienced thanks to a proactive approach. Reactionary plan requires inter agency cooperation, so the department cross-trains with other agencies like DNR, Winnsboro Public Safety and the S.C. Highway Patrol.
Douglas praised schools for their efforts at lock down drills, which are aimed at keeping teachers and students out of harms way if a shooter should enter a building. While noting that their office cannot compel school officials to do the drills, he strongly encouraged principals to consider adding the lock down drills to their schedules.
“Those lock down drills buy a few extra seconds for law enforcement,” he said, “and that can make a world of difference.”
Several citizens academy members pledged to go back to school officials and encourage them to do more lock down drills.
As part of a presentation on special operations, the academy members saw the entire Fairfield County Dive team, Sergeant Ron Mull.
Over the years other certified members of the team have moved on, leaving Mull as the lone holdover, but if divers are needed then the department contacts SLED and DNR for assistance.
One major function of that unit is collecting evidence for crimes such as murder weapons or abandoned vehicles. Mull has searched in pools, ponds, lakes and even sewer tanks for evidence in the past.
Members saw a live demonstration from the county Special Response Team, complete with the use of a flash bang type device. Special Response deputies had the one of the county’s bloodhounds out for a visit as well.
The academy members also toured the county’s mobile emergency response station, which is housed and maintained by the sheriff’s department. They saw the command station and the work stations in the vehicle, which contains extra antennae for communicating with DNR, SLED or SCANA.
Also, Mull and Corporal D.J. Wilson outlined the C.O.P.S. (Community Oriented Police Service) program that the department provides. They serve as friendly faces to liaison with the community and get to know people. With 28 years combined law enforcement experience between them, the two are a first point of contact for non-emergency situations. Mull and Wilson support community crime watch meetings, lining up speakers and attending them as much as possible.
The Home Alone Program where sheriff deputies and volunteers regularly make contact with around 60 people who are elderly or disabled and live alone to make sure their basic needs are met and their quality of life remains stable. Mull and Wilson also visit the two major nursing homes in the county to interact with the residents there.
The COPS officers pitch in to patrol the lake using a special patrol boat, but the two men also assist other departments like animal control, investigation and narcotics, prisoner transport, code enforcement, and court security.
They provide mutual aid to other county sheriff departments and also help with the FCSD annual Kids’ Camp each June from children age 8-14. Teens over 14 have the option to come back as counselors at the camp, which is funded completely by donations.