Law enforcement officers from 20 agencies were the first to undergo rigorous training on how to neutralize active shooters under tactics developed as part of Morris County Sheriff James M. Gannon’s RSVP-3 program to curb violence within schools.
A group of 12 tactical instructors, including Morris County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Walter Rawa, Sheriff’s Office Bureau of Corrections Sergeant John Davidek, and Sheriff’s Officer Frank Perez, on March 20 used PowerPoint, videos, and hands-on instruction which they spent months perfecting as a training tool for RSVP-3 to teach Morris County municipal police officers and Sheriff’s officers best practices in responding to active shooter incidents.
RSVP-3, which stands for Responsible School Violence Prevention, Preparation, Protection, was founded by Sheriff Gannon in collaboration with the Morris County Chiefs of Police Association immediately after the mass shooting on Feb. 14, 2018, that left 17 people dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
RSVP-3 is a multi-disciplinary approach to identifying, evaluating and responding to threats to schools, houses of worship and other institutions. RSVP-3 involves the participation of Morris County schools, superintendents, mental health experts, police and emergency services personnel, with the U.S. Secret Service and Office of Homeland Security among the agencies that provided their expertise.
The vacant Sacred Heart School on East Main Street in Rockaway – still containing boxes of children’s books, religious artifacts and sports trophies in display cases – was the venue March 20 for about 35 police officers to hone response and tactical skills they would use in an active shooter situation.
The Morris County Sheriff’s Office has a tactically-trained unit called the Sheriff’s Emergency Response Team – which regularly patrols the county and provides protection to President Donald Trump when he flies in and out of Morristown Airport – but local police are expected to be the first to respond in the event an active shooter opens fire in a school, Sheriff Gannon said.
“You’re the best and the brightest,” Sheriff Gannon told the group gathered in the gymnasium before they split into four teams to practice tactics in the school corridors under the tutelage of instructors.
Gannon reminded the officers they wear two hats: as guardians of the community who find missing children and help vulnerable people in need, and as warriors who won’t hesitate to put their lives in peril to save others.
“This is about accepting risks but they’re calculated risks,” Sheriff Gannon said.
“At the end of the day, when the bell rings, we want to neutralize the threat,” he said.
Sgt. Rawa, of the Sheriff’s Office, and Hanover Officer Eric Prach offered a PowerPoint presentation to the officers that stressed focus on smart movements and communication with other officers during a highly-stressful encounter with an active shooter.
Sgt. Rawa said Wednesday’s training incorporated the best techniques used by multiple special operations and military forces.
The law enforcement officers that participated in Wednesday’s training were from police departments and agencies that included Butler, Chester, Dover, Florham Park, Wharton, Hanover, Harding, Jefferson, Long Hill, Madison, Montville, Morris Plains, Morristown, Mount Olive, Pequannock, Randolph, Rockaway Borough, Rockaway Township and the Morris County Sheriff’s Office.