Posted on January 7, 2015

Berks Technical Institute becomes crime scene for police-response training.

A man wielding a baseball bat ran through the halls of Berks Technical Institute in a blood-bath scenario staged for a police-response drill Wednesday.

Shrieks and screams echoed in the halls from a scream machine.

BTI students drenched in fake blood were crouched and scattered in rooms as officers carrying AR-15 rifles methodically maneuvered through the building searching for the assailant.

"The only way you're going to learn is to try and make it realistic," said Christine Bitler, BTI's criminal justice program director, noting the exercise was a win for law enforcement and the Wyomissing school.

More than 20 officers from five local police departments participated in the drills with different scenarios including a hostage situation and an active shooter.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security defines an "active shooter" as someone actively killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.

An FBI report released late last year found the number of active-shooter incidents nationwide has risen sharply since the Great Recession.

Since 2007, the U.S. has averaged about 16 active shooting incidents a year. Before that, there were about six a year.

The Columbine High School mass shooting in 1999 that left 13 dead in Colorado was a game changer for law enforcement, transforming the way police deal with shooting rampages.

Before Columbine, the standard operating procedure called for officers to set up a perimeter and wait for specially trained, elite teams to assemble and respond.

Today, active-shooting training calls for officers to rush toward the gunfire - stepping over bodies and bleeding victims if necessary - to stop the gunman.

"There's no standing around anymore," said Richard Karstien, assistant team leader for the Berks County Emergency Response Team and a Wyomissing police officer. "Everyone else is running out of the building and you run in."

Because the majority of incidents are over within minutes and a SWAT response in Berks County could take up to an hour, it is critical patrol officers know how to respond, said Karstien, who was among the trainers overseeing the drills Wednesday.

In 1 of every 4 active-shooter incidents the FBI studied, law enforcement and the shooter exchanged gunfire. In nearly half the incidents in which gunfire was exchanged, law enforcement suffered casualties, driving home the risk officers face responding to the scene.

Wayne Holben, a West Reading police officer who participated in the training, said the drills were invaluable.

"It helps us have a game plan when a situation like this arises, that we're ready for it," Holben said.


Brambila, Nicole.,"Berks Technical Institute becomes crime scene for police-response training." Reading Eagle., 07 Jan. 2015.