DUNCAN — When police responded to reports of gunfire in the parking lot of Walmart Monday morning, officers were prepared for anything.
Duncan Police Lt. Michael Davidson, who leads the training sessions for the department, from the patrol division to the Special Response Team and Tactical Team, said every officer is equipped with the skills to deal with a situation. Although every incident has different qualities, there are basic things the department knows works with all situations.
“You can’t prepare for every situation,” Davidson said. “We train usually on active shooting with the full department. They know what we expect them to do.
“Response is key,” he said, “we have to get the bodies there.”
On Monday, Officer Ron Corcoran was the first officer to arrive shortly before 10 a.m. at the Walmart, 3393 N. U.S. 81, on the report of a shooting with multiple people down. He was joined within seconds by a force of supporting officers.
Davidson said that Corcoran was prepared for an active shooting situation.
“We teach our patrolmen a sole entry, sole response,” Davidson said. “The first officer on the scene is to go find our bad guy and stop the chaos.”
With Monday’s incident, the shooter and two victims were found dead. Investigators determined that Rebecca N. Vescio-Varela, 31, Duncan, and Aubrey P. Perkins, 39, of Minco, had been shot and killed while inside a red Kia car parked in the store’s south parking lot. Outside, lying on the ground near the rear of the car, Vescio-Varela’s estranged husband Wbiliado R. “Yayo” Varela Jr., 43, Duncan, was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Investigators have linked the dual murder/suicide to a domestic dispute between the estranged couple.
One thing that caught first arriving officers off-guard and paused efforts for first-aid was the presence of an armed citizen in the parking lot. Davidson said the man turned over his gun and was compliant with police. He later had his gun returned.
With the Nov. 1 implementation of open carry in Oklahoma, this presents a scenario law enforcement is ever more acutely aware of. Compliance is the key to keeping a situation from turning toward further chaos.
“You’re going to encounter people with guns and you have to determine if they’re friendly or foe,” Davidson said. “When we encounter them, we’re going to instruct them to leave the scene.
“You’ve got to deal with someone with a weapon and determine the threat,” he said. “The general public, if I can say anything, it’s be compliant. If we tell you to put your hands up, put your hands up.”
Davidson warned the public from trying to overly insert themselves into an active shooter situation because they are armed. He said those are people the officers try to give a task so they can help without hindering the situation through their actions.
With mass shootings becoming a hot topic as their numbers increase, they are another contingency officers take into consideration when approaching a scene. Davidson said that training practices haven’t really changed, however. There are tangibles that apply no matter the particulars of the setting.
Officers train at least 8 hours a month in tactical entries, search warrants, etc. But an active shooter situation “is a fully different ballgame.”
“We teach them to listen and to look,” Davidson said. “You’ve got to make quick decisions on the people that are coming at you and whether they’re friendly or foe.”
At an active shooter crime scene, Davidson said that “if you assume there’s one gunman, there’s multiple gunmen.” The first arriving officer has to make quick notice of evidence from the scene as to what the situation entails and how many shooters may be involved. That evidence includes injured parties, spent shell casings and information from people coming out of the scene.
“If you listen to those coming out, pay attention to what they have to say and the sights and sounds,” he said.
In the end, with training, officers need numbers and they need communication between departments and agencies. Davidson said that was on prime display as a key Monday at the Walmart parking lot.
In the end, however, those officers responding are only as good as their training has taught them. It offers the tools to take those skills and adapt, even when a situation is unlike another, Davidson said.
“You cannot prepare for every situation; you’d like to think we can but in reality we can’t,” he said.
Written by Scott Rains: email@example.com.