MAPLE PARK – St. Charles Police officers wouldn’t ordinarily be the first law enforcement agency to respond to an emergency at a campus in the Kaneland School District 302.
But Thursday, officers from the department swept through vacant halls and classrooms, moving in diamond formations while they rehearsed the search for a fictional shooter at Kaneland Middle School in western Kane County.
The exercises came as part of the St. Charles department’s rapid deployment training, which is conducted annually.
Commanding officers at the St. Charles Police Department stressed the training exercise had been planned and did not come in response to the Dec. 14 school shootings in Newtown, Conn. But they also said the training exercises would help officers respond should the unthinkable happen at a school, workplace or other community building in the Tri-Cities area.
St. Charles Police Chief Jim Lamkin said the city’s police department has conducted rapid deployment training since 1999 and has rehearsed with nonlethal training ammunition – known as Simunition – since the mid-2000s.
Training locations have included factories, offices and schools, the latter of which is preferred by police because of the long hallways, staircases and classrooms that are common to educational buildings.
The Simunition products – essentially lightweight bullets with paintball tips – allow officers to practice using weapons that are identical to the weight and feel of their service weapons, Deputy Chief David Kintz said.
The Simunition bullets travel at 450 feet per second, Deputy Chief Steve Huffman said.
“And they hurt,” Huffman said, adding the realism helps get officers’ adrenaline going.
Since the Connecticut shootings, the city police department and St. Charles School District 303 have received calls from parents asking whether officials are prepared for a similar event here, a city news release said.
According to the release, the police department has partnerships with District 303 to increase security, and uniformed officers are continuously patrolling their beats.
The release noted that extra attention is being given to schools in light of recent events.
“We follow extensive protocols at the school, city and county level to ensure security and the proper response to emergency situations,” Lamkin said in the release.
“The police department conducts situation-based training routinely that helps keep personnel exposed to real life events and be better prepared to respond if needed.”
On Thursday, officers rehearsed moving in diamond formations through hallways, entering classrooms that may contain an active shooter and ensuring that fellow officers are safe as they move from room to room.
The two-day drills were conducted by the department’s members of the Kane County SWAT Team and included the department’s 54 officers.
St. Charles Police spokesman Paul McCurtain said officers train as a large group, rather than as assigned teams, because actual emergencies do not allow the luxury of waiting for specific personnel to arrive before taking action.
“It’s the first four guys that arrive, they form up and go in,” McCurtain said. “And in light of what’s happened, we’re even asking the question now if we should wait that long before going in.”
McCurtain said the St. Charles department normally would rehearse its maneuvers in a St. Charles school. But he said there were none available at this time, so the department asked for and received permission from District 302 to use the Kaneland Middle School building.
Located on the campus with Kaneland High School at Keslinger and Meredith roads, the former middle school is no longer used for regular classroom instruction. Those have been relocated to Kaneland Harter Middle School in Sugar Grove.
The St. Charles release listed other school security measures, including:
• School resource officers work in both St. Charles high schools.
• The police and school district have worked together on disaster planning.
• The police department provides lock down drills and security assessments to every school.
• Safety plans have been developed with the Kane County Regional Office of Education to standardize plans throughout the county. All tactical plans are reviewed by members of the Kane County SWAT Team, of which St. Charles Police officers are members.
• Tactical pre-plans are kept in each city police squad car.
• School staff train with local law enforcement for disasters and have tactical resources on hand.
• School response plans are reviewed by security consultants through the Kane County Regional Office of Education.