There was a heavy police presence around Dartmouth High School last Tuesday as officers responded to a weapons complaint.
The school was placed on lockdown for more than two hours, and police responded in force, deploying the emergency response team, a crisis negotiator and the K-9 unit to the scene.
A 15-year-old was eventually taken into custody, and an imitation gun was found nearby.
“We will always respond at the highest level until we can determine what the actual situation is,” said Staff Sgt. Mark MacDonald.
“Because if it is a true active aggressor or active shooter situation, there are no resources that we aren’t going to put into that.”
MacDonald leads the training for Halifax Regional Police and says the whole department has taken part in active shooter training.
Training was first held in Halifax in 2001 as a response to the Columbine shooting that took place in 1999.
“Prior to that, the general response — and every situation is different — would be to isolate the area, to cordon it off and try to develop some sort of communication with the suspect inside,” said MacDonald.
“With Columbine, we realized — and police departments across North America realized — in a call like that, there’s no kind of conversation that can take place, and while police are waiting and setting up and ensuring the perimeter is secure, people are being hurt inside.”
The training now takes place every two years, and the department ensures that officers are kept up to date on techniques in between training sessions.
“If and when it were to happen, we need to be ready to respond,” said MacDonald.
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In addition to the training, the department also works to make sure they have the best equipment. The force now has access to carbine rifles, and every vehicle is equipped with hard body armour.
Police do note that every response will be different and that officers respond to the information available at the time with as many resources as they feel are necessary to protect those involved.
As officers work to protect the public, MacDonald says the public can help by:
- Avoiding the instinct to rush to the scene. MacDonald says police work to set up staging areas, a safe place where concerned citizens can go for more information.
- Don’t spread rumours on social media. Police will provide the necessary information as quickly as they can through official channels.
- If someone is caught in a situation where police are actively searching for a suspect, MacDonald says it’s best to raise your hands so officers can know you’re not a threat.
- Provide police with any information you might have to help them with their investigation.
The 15-year-old boy, who cannot be named due to the Youth Criminal Justice Act, is now scheduled to appear in Halifax Provincial Court at a later date, where a judge will decide whether he is tried as an adult. He has been released from custody on conditions.
He faces charges of assault with a weapon, uttering threats, pointing a firearm and possession of a weapon.