Columbine Training for Cops With Almost Real Bullets


I was the "Right Wing" on a four man "Active Shooter Squad."

Then, as we turned the corner into the cafeteria, I found myself on the left, kneeling with my 9mm pistol loaded with plastic bullets called "Simunition."

Two men were standing side by side -- yet back lit by the windows. There was a gun visible in the hand of one. He started to pivot, and I opened fire -- emptying my clip.

The soap-filled bullets started to fly as I winged one assailant, then hit the guy I saw holding the gun, at least a couple of times.

Oh no.

Turns out the first guy I hit was playing the "hostage."

The three cops in my team had held their fire because the team leader wanted to try to negotiate with the Bad Guy.

Was I trigger happy?

"Just because he's holding the hostage doesn't mean you have to allow yourself to be shot," said Leonia, N.J., Police Chief Jay Ziegler.

So I got some cover from the Chief on my first and probably last foray into something levels above a paintball game.

Leonia has just 18 police officers, the Chief included. But it has a high school, and it has its share of troubled kids "like communities you find all across the United States," said Chief Ziegler.

That's why his department for the past three or four years has been training at least twice a year at Leonia High School while the students are on break, as they were this winter day.

And the ammo, a product called FX Simunition, requires protective gear for your head, and, well, let's just say other sensitive parts of your lower body.

"The Simunition itself stings a little bit," said Officer Sihoon Chung.

A part of me was curious to know what it would feel like to be hit by a round or two.

But when I played a hostage, and Officer Chung was the Bad Guy, it was automatic for me to take a dive just nanoseconds before the Active Shooter Squad opened fire.

That's the kind of reality training Chief Ziegler aims for, and he admitted it can be a little pricey. That's why, he told me, many departments either use less intensive training, or don't even bother.

"I think it's as realistic as it gets," said Sgt. Dave Stein.

I asked him how he would do if there was a real Columbine-type incident in his small borough.

"I think we would do very well," he said.

Just don't call on this reporter to be your wing man.

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