How could active shooter exercise have gone so terribly wrong?

The accidental shooting of a North Texas police officer during an active-shooter training exercise earlier this month raises troubling questions.

Sansom Park police officer Lina Mino was critically injured when she was shot in the face during a live drill at a Forest Hill elementary school southeast of Fort Worth. The event was hosted by the Forest Hill Police Department, conducted by a third-party trainer and included officers from several different agencies.

How could this have possibly happened? Why was live ammunition involved? What safety standards are required for these active-shooter exercises?

The instructor in charge of the training was placed on administrative leave from his job as a reserve chief deputy constable this week, and the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement suspended his certificate as a general instructor pending investigations by the Texas Rangers and the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office. The commission also suspended its training contract with Forest Hill police, which it had approved to provide the training.

We don’t know whether the instructor was at fault in the incident. But our look into the matter has drawn our attention to the issue of instructor training.

TCOLE told us the instructor who oversaw the training was not specifically certified to provide active shooter training. No specific certification to do so exists in the law.

Instead, assessing the qualifications of any instructor chosen by a law enforcement agency to conduct active-shooter training is the responsibility of that agency, TCOLE spokesperson Gretchen Grigsby told us.

The Texas Legislature in 2019 mandated that every school police or resource officer must complete an active shooter response training program approved by TCOLE within 180 days of his or her assignment. But we wonder why those who provide that training aren’t required to be specifically certified in active-shooter instruction.

So does David Riedman, founder of K-12 School Shooting Database, an independent research project that tracks school shootings nationwide. He said setting uniform requirements for instructor certification is necessary to avoid a confusing array of training practices.

Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training, which is affiliated with Texas State University, provides active-shooter training with the help of funding by the Legislature.

J. Pete Blair, its executive director, said his training courses first employ the use of fake “blue guns” in early stages, then progress to the use of real handguns altered with chambers that fire harmless soap balls. All officers must remove their own weapons before participating in the training. To ensure they have, they’re scanned with metal detectors and undergo pat downs, Blair said.

The accident in Forest Hill was “horrific,” not only because an officer was injured, but also because of the apparent lapse in best practices, he added.

We agree. School districts throughout Texas must ensure their students are safe from active shooters. We don’t know what happened in Forest Hill and trust the authorities will find out who is to blame. In the meantime we hope the Legislature will consider mandating specific active-shooter training requirements for instructors when it goes back into session in January.