Rhinelander Police Department aims to change civilian response in active attack events
BY EILEEN PERSIKE
Rhinelander Police Sgt. Angela Mertz had a captive audience of about 30 community members in a Rhinelander High School classroom last week. Mertz was there to teach those in attendance how to fish.
Well, not exactly. Everyone there signed up to learn about Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events. How were they going to learn? Mertz used the apt metaphor to explain the program.
“The goal of this training is to change the way you view these types of events and your response to it,” Mertz said. “We want to change the way you think about this; we want to get you thinking about how you would respond for things you do in your life, where you work, where you visit.”
Mertz is a certified CRASE instructor through Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training. Over the past 18 months she has instructed about 1,000 employees of various Rhinelander companies how to “fish” CRASE-style: Avoid, Deny, Defend.
Avoid involves being situationally aware, knowing where the exits are and finding the safest option for getting out, and using your “gut.”
“We as adults stop listening to the gut feeling,” Mertz said. “We rationalize, ignore it. Nobody wants to be the one to overreact.” She told the group that if something feels wrong, there’s a good possibility there’s something wrong.
“Every store, restaurant, really anywhere you go, just be aware of your surroundings,” said participant Brandon Karaba. “Where are the fire exit points? I know my wife and I will be talking about this every time we go out from now on. It may seem strange, but unfortunately this is the world we live in and we all have to be prepared with the knowledge of how to react.”
Deny means preventing the shooter from getting to you. It may mean locking the door and turning out the lights or barricading the door. Mertz said she prefers “deny” to another term that is used, “hide,” because hiding limits a person’s ability to take action, and desks will not stop a bullet.
Defend, or fight, means doing everything in your power to disarm, or take the shooter out.
“Nationally, over 50 percent of active attack events are over before law enforcement even arrives,” Mertz told the group. “Fifteen percent are stopped by unarmed citizens. So who’s more important? Law enforcement or you guys? You guys.”
The four-hour course was condensed to three hours, but still included statistics, videos and a recording of an actual 911 call made by a teacher at Columbine High School during the shooting event there in April 1999. Mertz said the shooting episode that day lasted 53 minutes; it took six hours for the police to get inside. “Law enforcement and society said that was unacceptable,” Mertz said and changes were made to the way police react to such incidents. Emergency medical response changed after the shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.
“This can happen to any one of us at anytime and anywhere, so for (Mertz) to take the time to do this type of presentation is amazing,” said Karaba. “Every second matters in these situations.”
“You are not helpless,” Mertz said. “What you do matters.”