COOS COUNTY — In the wake of Sunday’s Las Vegas shooting, North Bend's Police Chief urges the public to learn how to react in a combat zone.
“This is the day and age we unfortunately live in,” said Chief Robert Kappelman. “The reality is that we need to train our citizenry on how to react in a combat zone.”
U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley issued a statement to The World in response to the deadliest mass shooting in recent U.S. history, in which a gunman opened fire on an outdoor music festival, killing 59 people and wounding hundreds of others. It comes on the anniversary of the 2015 Umpqua Community College shooting in Roseburg, where a student killed eight classmates and a professor.
“My question to my colleagues in Congress is this: How many more parents need to bury their children before Congress acknowledges the need to take action to reduce gun violence?” Merkley wrote in an email. “We shouldn’t accept massacres as the price of living in America."
Merkley is in the process of fighting to stop a House bill that if passed would make it easier for the public to purchase silencers. Merkley wrote that this would result in even more carnage and condemned the bill as a “terrible idea.”
“We can do better and still respect Second Amendment rights,” he said. “When you have weapons of war in wide circulation, you get war-like casualty counts. That’s not what the Founders had in mind.”
The World reached out to local law enforcement and casinos for what their preventative measures are to avoid a Las Vegas mass-casualty event, as well as what their procedure is to react if one ever does happen.
Coos County Sheriff Craig Zanni pointed to the 1996 mass murder in Bandon when Girley Crum went on a methamphetamine-fueled murder spree, slashing the throats of three adults and two young children in a single-wide trailer home.
“He was not unknown to law enforcement when this happened, because he had been in trouble before,” Zanni said. “Part of the reason we have the Interagency Major Crime Team is because we learned, early on, that living in a smaller community means no agency has the ability to deal with something on a large scale on its own. If something large happens, it becomes a community law enforcement event with whatever resources being provided by any agency that can provide it.”
Capt. Kelley Andrews, with the Coos County Sheriff’s Department, brought up a more recent incident in which a deputy called for help just last month.
“When the deputy had his car backed into and he was yelling for help, we had Myrtle Point guys show up,” Andrews said. “That’s how we do things here. We back each other up and sort it out later. That’s how it would look if there was a mass shooting.”
Andrews admitted that there are no hard-set directives for local law enforcement in case of a large-scale crime, no closed-circuit cameras or analysts.
“If we have events like a concert, we check out the crowds and look at Facebook to see what’s being posted and if anyone is against the event,” he said. “We have no hard-fast plan in place, we are reactionary. Anything that is preventative is just good police work.”
However, North Bend Police Chief Robert Kappelman has spent the past few years working to educate and prepare the public in his city on how to react if the worst were to happen as far as active shooters.
“What we saw on Sunday is a mass-casualty incident, so the most important thing for law enforcement in that situation is our response time, which is critical,” he said. “We do not wait to combine resources to go toward the threat. Our procedure is to go immediately to the threat in an attempt to neutralize it, so we must respond fast and eliminate the threat.”
Coordinating efforts with other agencies comes in taking care of the wounded, searching for secondary suspects or devices, and reuniting displaced individuals.
As far as preventative measures, Kappelman has established ALICE training for both the schools and local businesses.
ALICE stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate, not necessarily in that order.
“It’s about teaching people that they have options and choices in case they are involved in that kind of horrific situation,” he said. "Having the necessary information to make those decisions is important, we feel.”
He brought the ALICE training to the schools, ensuring that staff and students are prepared on how to properly react to an active shooter from kindergarten to 12th grade. He has also had six of his officers certified as ALICE trainers — a third of his police department — in order to offer that training to North Bend organizations and businesses.
“Whether you have one employee or 200, we will train you in your environment on your schedule on how to react and all free of charge,” Kappelman said. “We strongly feel that this training is important because knowledge goes with you. You might later be with your family at a mall, a theater, or a church and find yourselves in this kind of situation and you will know what to do.”
One situation in North Bend that Kappelman’s department has de-escalated, that had the potential for mass casualty, occurred last year when a young man walked in front of the North Bend High School carrying an air rifle that looked like an assault rifle. Their response was the same as if there had been a shooter sighted.
“What that incident showed us was that the ALICE training works,” he said. “The school did all the things they were supposed to do, our officers did what they were supposed to do and the incident was resolved without anyone being injured, especially after the fact that the man was carrying a replica firearm and not a real one. Training consistently pays off.”
After Sunday's shooting, Kappelman anticipates planning for large scale events to change. Up until Sunday, typical event planning only thought of active shooters as someone in close proximity to the victims. The Las Vegas shooter, identified as 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, shot at concert-goers from 1,000 feet away on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino.
“Some of the approaches we talk about are evacuate or fight with the individual if that is your only choice,” Kappelman said. “But when I think about this incident in Las Vegas, as with many active shooter incidents, if someone is intent on carrying out that type of act, there is very little we can do in terms of preventing them completely from happening. Our goal instead is to minimize casualties.”
Coos Bay Police Chief Gary McCullough echoed Kappleman's reflections.
“When you see where the mass shootings are across the states, there’s no real rhyme or reason. It’s kind of like a tornado or a wildlife. It’s difficult to prevent," McCullough said.
In terms of future events, Kappelman now expects them to include planning for potential threats from afar as well as up close.
“The threat can come from the top of a building, so fighting back isn’t an appropriate response if he’s across the parking lot and 32 floors up,” he said. “Evacuation becomes more important, to figure out how to move the size of the crowd away from the threat quickly or give crowds barriers that provide more concealment and cover where ballistics won’t penetrate.”
Unlike Kappelman, McCullough said the tragedy isn't going to change the way area events are policed.
“I don’t think it’s going to change how we monitor our (Bay Area) Fun Festival crowds,” McCullough said.
He added that security measures at the venue wouldn’t have necessarily made a difference, because the shooter wasn’t attending the concert.
At The Mill Casino and Hotel, Corporate Communications Director for the Coquille Economic Development Corporation answered questions from The World on their own preventative measures for a mass shooting.
Ray Doering said that the ALICE training is part of the new employee training, ensuring that every staff member is prepared for this type of an event.
“We began working at the end of last year to provide active shooter training,” Doering said. “It’s more of a thought process on how to get yourself into a place where you can barricade doors or fight back. It wasn’t a full training, but adapted so they are aware because we are committed to keeping our guests and employees safe.”
To sign up for North Bend Police Department’s ALICE training, call the station at 541-756-3161.
“I extend our sincerest condolences for those effected by events Sunday night,” Kappelman said. “It’s unconscionable and difficult to comprehend why things like this occur, but we have to learn as much as we can from them so we can better protect ourselves in the future.”