URBANA, Illinois – Ahead of the new school year, University of Illinois Police officers completed intensive training they hope to never use in real life.
In July and August, all University Police officers who might be called to respond to an active shooter situation in the campus area completed a refresher course in how to react quickly and safely to keep campus community members as safe as possible.
Meanwhile, staff in the Division of Public Safety’s Emergency Management Department work throughout the year to compose emergency plans and offer training and resources to campus community members. Emergency Management resources help people to quickly reach safety in an emergency while police officers are moving toward the danger.
The officers’ training – also known as “active threat” or “rapid responder” training – is a combination of instructional sessions and live-action scenarios that teaches police officers the safest and most effective ways to respond to situations where a person is trying to harm others. It was led by other University Police officers who have years of training and experience already in their skillsets.
“We ran the entire department through,” said University Police Sgt. Michelle Schroeder, who leads the department’s strategy and tactics unit. “Just kind of a refresher on our tactics, things we need to consider and be thinking about as we respond to an active threat.”
That includes how the officers approach a threat, how they move through buildings and what the “driving factors” are that compel officers to move more quickly.
“It’s practice and repetition and drills that help us build our skillset,” Schroeder said. “This training ultimately improves our performance in applying the skills that we teach.”
The police officers’ response is one component of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s preparations for emergencies. The Emergency Management team creates plans for all kinds of scenarios, and offers resources to campus partners, stakeholders, students, faculty and staff.
Those resources include the Illini-Alert emergency notification system, Building Emergency Actions Plans and Run-Hide-Fight resources that are distributed university-wide. The idea is to help people think ahead about emergencies and how to keep themselves and others safe.
Active threat training is a course regularly offered to University Police officers, but repeated training helps them to refine their skills and their mindset. This summer’s training was conducted inside University Laboratory High School on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus.
The scenarios created by the trainers and experienced by the officers were based on real-life events that have occurred elsewhere.
The goal in every scenario is the same – to react as quickly and as safely as possible. The circumstances of each call change how an officer might approach a situation, but the objective always is to reach the threat promptly and put an end to the danger.
Throughout the training, officers had to confront the uncomfortable reality that they might be called to respond to an extremely dangerous situation. It’s training that they hope to never use and scenarios that they are unlikely to ever find themselves in – but critically important if that call ever comes.
“There is a lot of talent and skills withing the University of Illinois Police Department,” Schroeder said. “I think the idea is knowing that the officers are ready. They understand that, as a law enforcement officer, their job is to drive toward a threat. That’s what we train for, and we try to get in that mindset that it’s something we might be called to do.”