New Bedford police hold active-shooter training exercise

A New Bedford Police Department SWAT team enters District Court during a training exercise Saturday morning. (Julianne Peixoto/WPRI)
A New Bedford Police Department SWAT team enters District Court during a training exercise Saturday morning. (Julianne Peixoto/WPRI)

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) – “Units responding to Third District Court, I have one active shooter, he’s going to be in Courtroom 1…I have multiple injuries on scene.”

It’s a dispatch call that police officers never want to hear, but it went out Saturday morning in New Bedford – as part of a training exercise held by the city’s first responders.

“Our special response team trains anywhere from three to four times a month,” said Lt. Amos Melo, “but this is the first one we’ve done in the courthouse.”

The exercise started at 8 a.m. Saturday and involved dozens of police officers, firefighters, court security officers, and volunteers. It’s part of a program organized by the state court system to prepare for a mass shooting, which debuted last year in nearby Fall River.

“Maybe once or twice a year around the country there is a shooting at a court facility somewhere in the nation,” said Jeff Morrow, Director of Security for the Massachusetts Trial Court, “and while we think this is a low probability event, it’s one with high consequences.” There are more than 100 courthouses around the state, Morrow said.

The approximately 80 court employees who participated in the drill work all across the region and will take the lessons-learned from the exercise back to their respective courthouses.

So, on an otherwise quiet morning, dispatch calls alerted officers to the gunman, ‘victims’ fled the courthouse, and patrol officers and SWAT teams entered the building with weapons drawn to capture or kill the shooter.

“We’re seeing more and more of it on a daily basis, and it’s not just schools anymore,” Melo said. “It’s malls, it’s shopping centers, it’s movie cinemas, it’s anywhere.”

Officers attempting to engage an active shooter must contend with the small, enclosed spaces of a building and the difficulties in very quickly determining who is a threat and who isn’t in the chaos a real shooting would create, Melo said.

But no matter the location, the advice for civilians caught in a real mass-shooting situation is the same: run if you can, hide if you can’t, and as a last resort, fight back.