After the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, President Barack Obama directed the FBI to train local law enforcement to develop a more consistent response and signed legislation formalizing the agency's authority to assist in mass killing investigations.
The FBI then partnered with an active-shooter training program — ALERRT, or Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Team — which was created in Texas after the 1999 Columbine High School shootings and receives Justice Department funding.
The bureau sent about 100 tactical instructors to Texas for training and returned them into the field to run exercises, alongside ALERRT trainers, for local officers. Officials say the partnership helps spread ALERRT's teachings to more officers than the program could cover on its own. It also lends the program what Schweit calls "the imprimatur of national support and standards."
Officials hope the partnership lasts for as long as funding remains available.
The two-day, 16-hour tactical session — like the one held on a college campus in Maryland last week — opens with classroom instruction and ends with role-playing drills. Officers and instructors are divided into gunmen, responders, hostages and victims and are given real-life scenarios that test their ability to enter a building and confront a shooter.
The officers, in blue protective helmets, fired non-lethal projectiles from lookalike handguns — enough to make a loud "pop" and sting on impact. An instructor filmed the drill so participants could study their mistakes later.
"In that kind of event, you can never get to the point where it's real life. Always in back of the officer's head, they know, 'I'm not actually going to die. No one's being killed,'" said J. Pete Blair, the ALERRT program's research director and an associate professor at Texas State University-San Marcos.
But, he added, "It's as close as we can get to the real thing without people getting hurt."