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Exclusive: Embedding with Palm Springs police during active shooter simulation

The Palm Springs Police Department is putting renewed focus on active shooter training for its officers.

Since late June, officers have been going through rigorous assessments to determine their strengths and weaknesses. 

“This particular assessment is probably the first one we’ve done in about 7 years,” said Lieutenant Gustavo Araiza of the Palm Springs Police Department.

I joined officers and Police Chief Andrew Mills at a simulation, which recreates challenges officers may face when responding to a real-life threat.

The simulation started with a call, which prompted my partner and I to equip ourselves with additional safety gear.

Volunteers with the department's Explorer program acted as victims during the simulation, which was conducted in a dark building and accompanied by disturbing sounds of people screaming for help.

“Hopefully other departments see it. I know other departments around the nation are doing the same training and at the end of the day, it’s to make sure people go home to their families,” said Trevor Smith with the Palm Springs Explorers.

The Palm Springs Police Department trains with semi-automatic rifles, similar to the weapons used by the gunmen in at least 16 high-profile mass shootings nationwide since 2012.

Additionally, the training exercise involves the use of munitions, or non-lethal training ammunition.

“The quality of the training is really important and that’s why we’re doing it with minimal officers walking in to this threat, because that’s what we’re seeing around the nation. You’re going to get one or two people going on scene. They can’t wait for backup. They got to go in and start killing the threat," said Chief Andrew Mills.

PSPD started holding these drills as a result of the law enforcement response to the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas on May 24, 2022.

As of July 20, 356 people have been killed by mass shooters this year, including 190 children under the age of 12, according to the National Gun Archive.

California does not require police officers to take active shooter training, however, PSPD decided to arrange for its force to undergo this type of assessment in response to the Uvalde school massacre. 

“What we don’t want to see is an officer go in and just freeze because their senses are overloaded, so that’s why if you went through the scenario you had people screaming, people running towards you,” Lieutenant Gustavo Araiza of the Palm Springs Police Department.

According to Lieutenant Araiza, a majority of the force's 102 officers have gone through the assessment.

“We wanted to give them a scenario and have them run into this cold and what we found out is that some of our officers didn’t have any training at all," he explained.

Once the officer assessments are completed, the Palm Springs Police Department plans to create a synopsis of "the main learning points", including decision making and mindset, which will then be provided to officers in the form of feedback ahead of an eventual large-scale training.

“We still can’t forget our tactics. running the walls, making sure not in the middle of the open room, moving with speed and aggression,” said Chief Andrew Mills of the Palm Springs Police Department.

I previously spoke with Palm Springs Police Chief Andrew Mills, who shared his thoughts on what it means to be a leader in law enforcement, on the heels of the fallout from the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

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Jennifer Franco

Jennifer Franco is the weekend anchor/weekday reporter for KESQ News Channel 3

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