CANTON — It was a coincidence that police from around north Georgia flooded into Cherokee County on Wednesday and Thursday for training aimed at how to handle mass shootings one day after a gunman opened fire at a DeKalb County school and the day a man armed with several knives and a BB gun was arrested at a school in Cherokee.
But Cherokee County Sheriff Roger Garrison says the events in DeKalb have made the training all the more important.
About 200 law enforcement and emergency management workers from more than 20 departments were in Canton for the training seminar led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s crisis management division.
Garrison said during a break in the seminar Thursday that Cherokee County has long worked to keep relationships with other agencies strong, but there can never be too much cooperation.
“No single agency can do it alone,” Garrison said. “You’ve got to reach out. You’ve got to have these partnerships in place … so when we do have one of these occurrences, we’re prepared for it.”
Eric Wojtkun, supervisory special agent from the FBI’s Atlanta office, led the discussion for the officials Thursday and said the program underway in Cherokee County is part of a statewide initiative to inform law enforcement agencies on tactics for handling shootings.
“In today’s environment, we are expected by the public — and we are expected by ourselves even more so — to give the best possible call and response,” Wojtkun said, during a break in the program Thursday.
The series of training courses around the state, Wojtkun said, is also to help law enforcement and emergency management agencies build relationships so that if such a tragedy such as the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., happens in their jurisdiction, all hands can be on deck.
Wojtkun said the program wasn’t only aimed at keeping officials ready for school shootings, but the means of handling a shooting of any type are the same.
“The principles of active shooter response — whether it be for a school, the shooting of a police officer or a shooting at a church — any of these principles are all the same,” he said.
“We still have the same type of response, we still have casualties, victims (and) witness management. The principles are all the same, so by practicing one, we are gearing ourselves up for any eventuality.”
Wojtkun said much can be done for public safety workers to prepare for these situations, but preventing them all together is something else entirely.
“There’s no central commander authority solution,” for total prevention, he said. “The solution is we take care of each other by community action. You take care of your family, your family takes care of the neighborhood, the church takes care of the members, the school watches its people and the police are … in their community and know their community.”
Garrison also said law
enforcement can’t prevent all tragedies.
“There’s not a simple answer that I can think of,” the Sheriff said. “I know the schools work to stay ahead of the curve and keep up with the potential problems they have, but I don’t think that anybody has developed a specific model for predicting these things and who the perpetrators are.”
But Wojtkun said the FBI and the other agencies in attendance at the seminar are resolved to do what they can to save lives.
“Whatever we need to do and whatever skills we need to bring together, we’re going to push to make it happen,” he said.