The Forsyth County News was on site with the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office to see SROs take part in various training scenarios involving simulated school shootings. Deputies and trainers worked together to hone SROs' skills with the office's new training simulator. For an extended interview with Forsyth's superintendent and sheriff prior to the start of the school year, click here.
While families prepared for the start to the new school year by hitting store shelves for paper and pencils, Forsyth County’s School Resource Officers spent the summer preparing to keep students safe.
Forsyth County Sheriff Ron Freeman said his office worked with Forsyth County Schools to create one of the largest School Resource Officer, or SRO, programs in the state with more than 50 officers stationed at schools and district facilities throughout the year.
Although each of these deputies train every summer, SRO leaders knew the training would look different this year following the tragic shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in May that left 19 students and two teachers dead.
“A lot of the focus on [our training] this year is driven by concern around Uvalde and other events,” said Sgt. Jeffrey Roe, a supervisor for the southern SRO tier overlooking 15 of the county’s 42 schools.
Preparing for the worst
Roe has 35 years of experience in law enforcement, 25 of those with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office. He helps oversee training during the summer, which includes a week-long intensive that every deputy takes part in before the school year starts.
Deputies practice with weapons on a gun range through close combat maneuvers and with sit-down classes where they go over protocol and strategies, planning for a range of worst-case scenarios.
This year, Roe said they also broke down what happened in Uvalde and other school shootings throughout the United States.
“[We] look at what was the shooter’s intent. Was it he was upset in the moment, or were there signs?” Roe said.
SROs also take part in active shooter training. Last year, Roe said the training took place at one of the schools, and command staff “worked extremely closely with our training division to make this training as realistic as possible.”
This year, officers were able to dive even deeper with the FCSO’s new training simulator.
The simulator features five large projection screens, three that stay in place against a wall and two trainers that can move around the room. On the screen, pre-recorded videos show a variety of scenarios officers may encounter on the job.
During the encounters, officers may need to practice non-lethal force, lethal force or de-escalation techniques. Trainers can then choose the next video to show how the scenario might play out in real life based on how deputies interact with the environment.
FCSO leaders said the new simulator will allow deputies to train for any type of scenario, but the deputies focused on scenarios surrounding school shootings for the initial training session.
To begin the first trainer-led scenario, one SRO stood in front of the simulator's screens, a fake pistol on her hip she could use against a simulated shooter. The screen turned from a black loading screen to the white hallways of a school.
The video led her down the hallway before playing the sound of gunfire in the distance. She instantly took out her weapon, and a realistic crowd of virtual students rushed past her.
When she came across a suspect with a gun, she yelled “put your hands up!” before using her weapon to shoot the suspect.
The screen then froze, and she walked over to a large computer where the trainer was controlling the scenario.
“Describe exactly what happened,” the trainer asked her.
Together, they talked through the scenario and the decisions she made, moving back through the video frame-by-frame and looking at the red markers indicating where she shot her weapon.
Roe said that SROs and trainers look closely at the sheriff’s office use of force policy to determine if they are making the appropriate decisions. The trainer asks each SRO to describe the encounter and articulate what they did and why.
“Some of that may be good and some of that may be bad,” Roe said. “Well, now is the time. If you’re going to make a mistake, do it here in training and learn from that mistake.”
Roe explained that the summer is not the only time SROs come back for training. While they must be on campus with students and staff throughout the school year, they can take time during any school holiday to further training with any of the tools available to the sheriff’s office.
Now that the school year has begun, Roe said SROs do much of what other deputies might do — write tickets and reports, investigate threats and answer any calls to service.
But on campus, they work closely with school administration and counselors to ensure the safety of every student and staff member.
“We’re entrusted with some 53,000 souls every day between the different schools,” Roe said. “The minute someone hits school grounds, they become our responsibility for their health, safety and welfare.”
To best provide protection, Roe said SROs work to build relationships with students, which is why he said assigning the right deputy to the right campus can be crucial.
Craig Anthony is an SRO at Midway Elementary School, and Roe said he wouldn’t have it any other way. He loves roaming the halls, giving kids fist bumps and high fives and talking with them whenever he has a chance.
“Because of these kids, I’m a rockstar,” Anthony said.
Roe said building these relationships creates a bridge between students and SROs that they hope helps students feel more comfortable telling deputies when they see something of concern.
But if students don’t feel comfortable talking with an SRO, they can report suspicious activity to the school system and sheriff’s office through P3 Campus, an anonymous tip line.
Anyone can download the P3 Campus app, visit the website at www.p3campus.com, or call 770-888-3466 to report a tip. The line is always monitored, so no matter what time of day a tip is submitted, it will be investigated.
Roe said residents should always report suspicious activity on or off campus like they would report seeing someone suspicious in a neighborhood.
“I would much rather you call me. Me and my guys come out … do a consensual encounter with this individual and we deem him not to be a concern. [But if you don’t] call … now I’ve got to investigate five different burglaries that occurred in the neighborhood,” Roe said.
He said students and parents should report a tip if they see a student posting concerning content on social media or making threats in person or online.
Roe recalled a case last year involving a threat he investigated and found out there were at least five individuals “who knew what was going on,” and none of them reported the activity.
“If you see something, say something,” Roe said. “Let the trained professionals do what we do better than anybody else. There is a specific reason each and every one of these officers is here. Nobody was forced to.”
“Nobody was told that you’re coming in here,” he said. “Everybody here genuinely loves kids and wants to see the best for those kids.”