SPPD Expands Active Shooter Training to Churches

South Pasadena Police Sgt. Mathew B. Ronnie gives the active shooter training to members of the local faith-based community at the Oneonta Congregational Church. Dozens of religious leaders were on hand. Photo by Steve Whitmore

The South Pasadena Police Department (SPPD) has expanded its active shooter training program to include the faith-based community in light of the recent mass shootings in Thousand Oaks and the synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA.

Interim Police Chief Brian Solinsky said the training has been most effective for his officers and the So Pas schools. It was time to include the local churches.

“The Police Department has done a great job being proactive in the community and leading in active shooter training,” Solinsky said recently in an email to The Review. “We have a robust curriculum and have provided exceptional training for our officers and schools. There is a strong sense of community here and strengthening those relationships has been a top priority. The City and Police Department have always worked closely with our faith-based community, but unfortunately, with recent events in Thousand Oaks and Pittsburgh, we saw a need to provide the training to our local churches.”

Last week, the SPPD took its active shooter program to Oneonta Congregational Church where religious leaders, pastors and residents learned basic safety techniques in the event of such an incident.

“I was so grateful to be part of today’s gathering,” said Sam Park, who is going to start a “church-plant” on the historic South Pasadena United Methodist Church (UMC) called ReNEW. “Not only did many of our faith communities receive critical information, but we also strengthened the partnership we have with our police department.”

The training, given by SPPD Sgt. Mathew B. Ronnie, included defining an active shooter, the history behind such events, emergency plans, information to provide the 911 operator, and the three simple rules during such an event.

Those rules are run/escape, if possible; hide, if escape is not possible; and, finally, fight, only as a last resort. Ronnie emphasized that all emergency plans should include fire, earthquake and active shooter procedures.

Ronnie also said that the first school shooting that made national news was 75 years ago, May 6, 1940, and it occurred right here in South Pasadena at the then-South Pasadena Junior High School.

The shooter was the principal of the school, Verlin Spencer, who, after shooting four staff members and being cornered by police, shot himself. Spencer was unhappy that he was not going to be rehired as the principal.

“Despite the Second World War raging on, the Verlin Spencer shooting made the front page of newspapers across the U.S.,” Ronnie shared with the gathered assembly at Oneonta last Wednesday. “Since then, police and fire now train together for emergencies. Cities train with other cities to form mutual aid. Many private businesses now train for active shooters.”

Ronnie’s approach was to empower the faith-based community during such an event.

“Staff should not feel hopeless, helpless and powerless,” according to the written material handed out at the training. “They should feel comfortable in asking questions regarding safety. Fear is best eliminated through education, communication and preparation. Publicize crisis team meetings and communicate proactively with all when no crisis exists in the news media.”

The program, on the other hand, cautioned against what was characterized as “knee-jerk reactions.”

Those include having bullet proof vests, arming staff or having armed guards, teaching personnel to attack armed intruders and building walls of paranoia.

Church leaders gathered at the Oneonta Church in South Pasadena for the active shooter training recently presented by the local police. Photo by Steve Whitmore

“Though we would like to think something like an active shooter situation would never happen in our places of worship here in South Pasadena, the sad reality is that it certainly can,” Park said. “I’m thankful that the SPPD is providing us resources to better prepare our faith communities if such circumstances should arise.”

Oneonta Pastor Lincoln Skinner agreed, saying the training is vital to maintain a safe and welcoming environment.

“The South Pasadena Clergy is thrilled and grateful for the ongoing support of Chief Solinsky, Sgt. Ronnie, and all of our wonderful officers at the South Pasadena Police Department,” Skinner said. “This active shooter training provides necessary insight and preventive measures to enhance the safety of the churches and schools in South Pasadena.”

Interim Police Chief Solinsky summed up the training by pointing out the importance of the faith-based community in South Pasadena.

“They are an important part of our community, and we wanted to ensure they had all the tools necessary to protect their congregations if there was an active shooter incident in South Pasadena,” he said. “I am excited to partner with our religious leaders and look forward to working with them.”