Ahead of the curve

By Sarah Pridgeon

Sheriff Jeff Hodge campaigned on the promise that Crook County’s residents would be introduced to a different way of thinking in an active shooter situation: a toolbox with which even an unarmed person could protect themselves from harm.

Since that time, he says, more than 1000 residents in this county have taken advantage of ALICE training – but the sheriff’s department is far from done.

“Once we started, with some of the initial classes, it really sparked people’s interest. The lightbulb came on,” he says. Prior to the introduction of ALICE, training for an active shooter situation concentrated on the lockdown procedure.

“Lockdown was for completely different stuff – drive-by shootings and so on. It wasn’t for people actually coming after you. Once people had actually been to the classes and seen ALICE, word just spread like wildfire.”

Across the nation, the general attitude towards a civilian response in a conflict with an armed shooter has been to huddle up, keep out of sight and wait for law enforcement to arrive. Though more people are realizing that this creates “sitting duck” targets for the perpetrator, Sheriff Hodge believes Crook County is more forward thinking than many places.

“It outdid my expectations,” he nods. “It’s hard to gauge – you can’t go across the nation and ask if they’re doing this – but it looks like we’re quite a way ahead of some agencies. We’re being fairly proactive and it’s going well, and ALICE is being pretty well received by everyone who attends it.”

Crook County’s positive response to a more proactive approach could have something to do with the public’s familiarity with firearms in the Midwest, Hodge says.

“Here, there are more people who handle guns and are not afraid to handle guns. The kids go shooting all the time,” he says. “There’s a different mindset there.”

ALICE trainings are still being scheduled regularly, he says, for groups of civilians ranging from teachers and students at the schools to worshippers at local churches, staff at area businesses and government departments. The Sheriff’s Office is even receiving calls from South Dakota requesting training, though Hodge has taken a restrictive approach in these cases on the basis that he would prefer not to spend Crook County tax dollars outside the county.

Having toured all the municipalities once with ALICE classes, Hodge is aiming to start the circle over in the near future to introduce a new group of people to the idea. Meanwhile, he encourages any business, social group or individual to contact the Sheriff’s Office if they are interested in the training and would like to be added to an upcoming class.

“It’s open to everybody,” he says. “Anybody can request to have one done. Most of our classes range from 15 to 20 people.”

Hodge asked Deputy Ed Robinson to take on ALICE, knowing he had a background in teaching lockdown procedures and a great track record as an engaging trainer. He commends Robinson for his work not only in teaching the classes, but in keeping the training up to date from the studies and the learning that comes from new events.

One of the sheriff’s priorities was to switch the thinking of students and teachers in Crook County’s schools.

“All the high schools are done and I have a meeting with the school board this week to adopt ALICE as their official policy on emergencies,” he says.

“The elementaries still need to be done and it’s a different ALICE, more geared towards training the teachers and the faculty and not so much the kids.”

Hodge is planning to schedule ALICE classes once per year, at least at high school level, for new faculty and students moving up from the elementary who have yet to experience the more mature level of training. But introducing ALICE to the schools was not the only priority – it’s a way of thinking that anyone, no matter their walk of life, could one day make use of.

“It doesn’t have to do with just the schools – it can have to do with anything. If you’re shopping or you go to a movie, or anything like that,” he says.

“It gives you a life skill that, no matter where you’re at, you will learn to deal with a situation even if you are not armed. It gives you options: you are in control of your destiny.”

We tend to do what we are trained to do in an emergency situation, Hodge continues. Those who have received ALICE training will typically make use of those techniques rather than freeze up and hide in a corner.

“It shows you what avenues you have to possibly escape, protect yourself and to deal with that situation,” he says.

“ALICE stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. They will show you what an actual lockdown would be like and how it feels to be in that situation.”

The training moves on from that point to teach civilians what courses of action are available to them if an active shooter enters the building with a gun. For instance, an ALICE-trained individual will know to look for windows through which to evacuate or might throw readily available items at the shooter to distract them.

“It continually upgrades and shows you your survivability rate if you do these certain things versus just barricading or locking down into an area and waiting,” he says.

Robinson also adapts the program for his audience; for instance, he will focus on age-relevant strategies to ensure less mobile attendees are given a toolbox appropriate to their abilities. A four-hour ALICE class begins with a presentation and moves on to a practical session during which trainees can try out their new skills.

“The more interaction you have, the better the class is,” Hodge says.

Hodge also encourages parents to attend an ALICE class, both for themselves and to understand what the kids are being taught.

“The mindset we’re trying to get through in the schools right now is that it not only needs to be us, the teachers, the kids, but the parents actually need to know a lot of this stuff too,” he says.

“If there is a situation at the school, the last place we want the parents showing up is at the school. We’re going to try to expand this into letting parents know what’s going to happen.”

If you would like to be included in an upcoming ALICE class, contact the Sheriff’s Office; smaller groups can be matched up to create full class sizes.

“If a business or individual is interested, you can leave your name and number and, when we get enough, we’ll do a class for you specifically,” says the sheriff.

“People who go to the class I think will be enlightened by the research and some of the case studies that go along with the program. It’s an educational experience.”