Washtenaw County Sheriff Jerry Clayton says things are getting “more dangerous” in today’s world as his department continues to try to serve and protect.
“I don’t know what’s going on in the world today, but it’s not getting simpler,” said Clayton during the Dexter Rotary Thursday morning breakfast at Riverview Café on March 22. “It’s not getting less crazy. Things are not getting less dangerous. It’s getting more dangerous out there. I’m not one for a lot of fear mongering, but it continues to perpetuate itself and its everyday now.”
Sheriff Clayton then recounted how his first exposure to active shooter training for law enforcement was with former Ann Arbor Police Chief, Dan Oates. After leaving Ann Arbor in 2005, Oates became Chief of Police in Aurora, Col.
On July 20, 2012, James Eagan Holmes set off tear gas grenades inside a Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Col., during a screening of the film The Dark Knight Rises. Dan Oates was Chief of Police. Wearing tactical clothing, Eagan then began shooting into the audience with a variety of firearms. Twelve people were killed and 58 others were injured from the gunfire. At the time, the theater shooting had the highest number of casualties in one shooting in modern U.S. history.
“Later, I was out in Colorado doing a seminar,” Sheriff Clayton said. “Dan wanted to test out an active shooter response simulation on the gathering.”
It was a well-organized, swift and strong response to a deadly situation. Sheriff Clayton was impressed, but he also did some math.
“In Aurora, there are over 600 police officers,” Clayton told the Rotarians. “There are not 600 officers in Washtenaw County. I realized at the time that if there was an active shooter in Washtenaw County, there is no single agency that can manage it by themselves.”
Since then, Sheriff Clayton and his department have spearheaded an initiative among all of the area law enforcement agencies that provides a coordinated response to active threats.
“We brought all of the police chiefs together in Washtenaw Country and explained we have to coordinate ourselves as if there was just one agency with one response,” Clayton explained. “We’ve done just that. Law enforcement in Washtenaw County now has a coordinated response for an active shooter. We all have the same policy. We all train together.”
After establishing a response among law enforcement, the Sheriff’s Department reached out to schools, businesses, places of worship and other high profile areas that could be a target offering them training in the event of an active shooter.
“Here’s what we know: the tactics have changed,” Sheriff Clayton told the group. “We do the initial training and then we’ve got to go back and do it again because the tactics have changed.”
He used the recent school shooting in Florida as an example of changing strategies. The shooter in this case pulled a fire alarm which moved everybody outside.
“I wish I could say that at some point you will not have to worry about it,” Clayton said, “but this is our new reality.”
The Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department has 430 employees with an annual budget of 50 million. The budget has been met in each of Sheriff Clayton’s ten years in office. Law enforcement dispatch for all county agencies has been centralized through the sheriff’s department. This expedites the coordination between agencies and the efficiency saves area police departments hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
“We know crime has no boundaries,” Clayton says. “Our ability now to move resources and coordinate with other police agencies really allows us to be more effective in terms of delivery of service.”
Sergeant Eugene Rush who accompanied Sheriff Clayton to the breakfast, didn’t soften the harsh new reality of violence in society.
“Ladies and gentlemen we have problem in our schools and we have a problem in our society in terms of school violence,” he said.
Sgt Rush is an instructor in active aggressor training who goes out to schools, faith-based organizations, churches, and businesses where expertise and instruction is needed on how to protect and interact with an active aggressor.
“In the old days, we wouldn’t have needed to talk about this, but those were the OLD DAYS,” Clayton emphasizes.