The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department held an active shooter drill at Valencia High School on Monday that deputies and school administrators in attendance described as having an unprecedented scale and engagement.
The event, which took about 250 people to execute, was done in coordination with the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station, the Sheriff’s Department Special Enforcement Bureau, and the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
School was not in session when the drill took place, but the active shooter training was designed to prepare deputies, and school administrators, for the real thing by being as realistic as possible. The exercise was organized by the Sheriff’s Department’s training bureau known as Tactics and Survival. TAS made sure the approximately 50 deputies participating in the drill had no idea what to expect, according to Capt. Justin Diez of the SCV Sheriff’s Station.
“Everything is a secret, nobody knows what to expect. Nobody has an idea,” said Diez. “They’re gonna get thrown into a situation and have to solve the problem. So in general, what you’re gonna see is some sort of active shooter scenario out here in the quad, in some of the buildings, responding deputies are going to have to determine how they’re going to solve that problem and neutralize the threat.”
To add to the realism, actors played either injured or wounded students or other victims – to which deputies would have to respond to accordingly. Injured or dead victims would actually be passed by the initial wave of deputies, which may seem shocking at first – but this is so law enforcement can dedicate all front-line resources to preventing further casualties by engaging or taking out the shooter(s). A secondary team, or paramedics, would follow the front line in order to triage and care for patients.
In addition to this, deputies and the mock shooters used what’s called “simmunitions” – which add to the realism of the training by allowing mock rounds tipped with a paintball to be loaded into real and common firearms used, such as an AR-15 or a 9 mm handgun.
Diez said this type of training is extremely beneficial to law enforcement because the way it was conducted and its scale is not something law enforcement gets every day.
“In law enforcement, and this is really important, school security has really become a cornerstone of law enforcement. We’ve made a shift. I think that our most precious commodity is our kids, obviously, and out in Santa Clarita, we have over 70 schools,” said Diez. “It’s important to train these guys how to do it, because our guys get training all day every day, hands-on training to do their job, because that’s what they’re doing all day. But you don’t get training like this because an event like this is very rare, although we had one in 2019, still very rare. So yeah, that’s a big deal.”
As the drill began, two mock school shooters – one armed with an assault rifle, the other with a handgun – advanced through the quad while actors portraying students simulated injuries and death lay on the ground.
A squad of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies moved up to engage them and gunshots were exchanged in a flurry. A smoke grenade went off, concealing the deputies as they attempted to flank the shooters.
As one squad of deputies put up their smoke screen and dipped behind some buildings, another squad came up on the right flank and engaged the shooters who, now distracted by the second squad, forgot about the first one – who had sneaked up on their left.
The shooters were surrounded and the deputy squad on the right moved in and took out the first shooter, as the second one evaded capture and entered a building – triggering the next part of the drill: indoor engagement.
Following the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, in which an 18-year-old shooter killed 19 children and two teachers, law enforcement officers responding to the incident were criticized for waiting an hour and 15 minutes before engaging with the shooter. Lt. Brandon Barclay, with the SCV Sheriff’s Station, said drills like these are meant to make sure that never happens again.
Barclay said if a shooter is alone and barricaded inside a room, that’s when law enforcement will set up a containment and attempt to negotiate a surrender. But if there are any hostages, Barclay said they’re not hesitating.
“If there’s hostages, it’s play ball. We’re going in,” said Barclay.
Although out of view from the press, the indoor training could be heard as actors playing students and staff pleaded for their lives and begged deputies to save them, all amid exchanging gunfire.
Part of the drill, which organizers said also made it a first of its kind, was having school administrators from every district in the SCV come and watch it and ask questions in regards to what school staff and faculty can do during a shooting.
Preceding the drill, administrators were gathered in Valencia High’s theater to watch a short video and ask questions answered by Diez, Sgt. Mike Marino, and Deputy Robert Jensen.
Those in attendance asked key questions such as if they should still barricade students inside a classroom with no exit or should they attempt to flee. Answers were given as well, with Marino answering this one by saying that hunkering down, staying away from windows, locking the door (this aspect especially), and making it appear as though the room is empty is the safest way to survive a shooting.
“You know, we’ve had the opportunity in Saugus Union [School District] to participate in the campus by campus, active shooter, lockdown drills with the Sheriff’s Department. But this was at a whole different level than what we’ve ever experienced before,” said Colleen Hawkins, superintendent of Saugus Union School District. So it just once again shows the great work that they do, how trained they are, how meticulous they are, and how supportive they are in our schools. In every way.”
“What an extraordinary level of coordination and collaboration that we enjoy between the school districts in our valley and local law enforcement,” said Mike Kuhlman, superintendent of the William S. Hart Union High School District. “It was outstanding and they shared with us repeatedly throughout that they’ve never experienced anything to this extent before. So I just thought it was remarkable. It was great for us to see their work in action.”
Hawkings, Kuhlman, Steve Doyle (superintendent of Castaic Union School District), and Catherine Kawaguchi (superintendent of Sulphur Springs Union School District) were unanimously impressed by the demonstration and, when asked if they saw anything of concern, they agreed they did not.
“I wouldn’t say concerned, I would just say that it was informative and it really helped us to understand why they are not there in 20 seconds,” said Kawaguchi. “Like there’s a process that goes through and I think it was informative when they were sharing that, how they’re approaching the system and how they’re approaching the buildings and everything – what is the thought process. I think it helped [with] more assurance of understanding of what’s going on.”
In some parts of the scenario, some who were wounded would not immediately be attended to. Sometimes there was more than one reason for this, one being the aforementioned goal of stopping the shooter to prevent further casualties, but another was to pause and give training to deputies.
“I think too, we [had] the opportunity to have one of the sheriff’s [deputies] in with us explaining some of the things and so when we would see someone who was clearly wounded, but not being assisted right away, why that was happening,” said Hawkins. “They reassured us that in a live situation, a real situation, that person would have been taken care of. So it was really helpful to watch and have that idea about what the training was so that when we were asking questions throughout, we could understand them. So I don’t know that it gave us pause. But we were all asking questions throughout. Like, ‘What’s this happening? Why is this happening?’ And so to have them there to help us through that was really important.”