In the wake of several recent mass shootings in the United States, the Federal Way Police Department (FWPD) presented the department’s strategies on responding to an active shooter, if the situation were to occur in Federal Way.
“Our core function seems to get hidden in the loud noise coming from society surrounding law enforcement. It’s too easy to forget that, among all of the other things we do, we better be the best at protecting people from violent predators,” said Deputy Chief Kyle Sumpter at the Federal Way City Council meeting on June 7.
An active shooter is someone who directs ongoing gunfire at people, he explained. Active shooters often target places where people congregate, he said, such as schools, places of worship, work offices, grocery stores, entertainment venues, and countless other settings.
“And meetings like this,” he said.
The discussion comes on the heels of two recent mass shootings that have dominated the media in the past month.
On May 14, 18-year-old white gunman Payton Gendron reportedly shot and killed 10 Black people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, while live-streaming the attack online. On June 15, Gendron was charged with federal hate crimes, which carry a life sentence and a possibility of the death sentence, in addition to state charges.
In Uvalde, Texas, an 18-year-old gunman shot and killed 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School on May 24. The gunman also shot his grandmother at home, prior to the attack at the school. Law enforcement officers from the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, Uvalde Police Department, Uvalde County Sheriff’s Office and U.S. Border Patrol responded to the scene; but, the police response has been widely criticized due to conflicting reports of timeline information, false statements, and reports of over an hour-long waiting period before officers entered the classrooms, among other complaints, according to various media reports.
Active shooter training and history in FW
The Federal Way Police Department’s strategy is to contact the shooter(s) to stop the shooting, send in rescue task forces to stop injured people from dying, then search or “clear” the facility, then investigate the crime scene, Sumpter said.
The final step involves the community to assist with the recovery after, he added. Exact details of the department’s response were not shared for obvious protection reasons, he said.
One of the deadliest shootings in Federal Way’s history occurred in 2013, when five people — including a 27-year-old suspect — were fatally shot.
Around 9:30 p.m. April 21, 2013, police responded to an apartment complex for reports of shots fired and located a suspect armed with a shotgun. The suspect ran, fell in the parking lot and reached for a handgun on the ground, police said. After ignoring commands to stop, the 27-year-old suspect was shot and killed by officers.
An investigation revealed that the suspect had fatally shot his 24-year-old girlfriend, Justine Baez, in their apartment and then killed three other men before encountering police. Police believed the suspect was trying to kill any witnesses, the Mirror previously reported.
When it comes to training, Sumpter said at the council meeting, there are no required hours of active shooter training for officers. Patrol tactics, refresher trainings, crisis intervention training and the Basic Law Enforcement Academy do not dedicate any training hours to active shooter events, he said.
“Zero minutes are dedicated to the topic,” he said.
The responsibility for active shooter training is put on individual agencies to provide training, Sumpter said.
“I will tell you what we need and that is a culture of legal clarity and support for law enforcement in our core function as protectors against ugly violence,” Sumpter said.
FWPD completes active shooter trainings with local churches and houses of worship, businesses and local security teams by request.
In 2019, FWPD worked with Federal Way Public Schools to co-construct active assailant training resources, which are provided annually and include feedback from families, said Whitney Chiang, chief of communications for the district. Law enforcement officers engaged with every public and private school campus in the school district to provide staff with active shooter preparation and training.
The student training is provided to grades K-12 and is tailored to be age-appropriate for each grade level, Chiang said, adding that prior to each year’s training, parents are invited to review the materials.
In addition, school resource officers (SROs) at each high school in the Federal Way district are armed.
“They are well-trained, well-tooled and willing to do what must be done,” Sumpter said.
With the massacre of the 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, still fresh on the minds of Americans across the nation, Federal Way City Council President Linda Kochmar asked Sumpter if he believes there should be armed SROs in every middle and elementary school in the Federal Way district as well.
“That’s merely a monetary question,” Sumpter said. “In today’s society, it’s almost a necessity.”