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Training day at West Side

Law enforcement role-play domestic violence situation

Photo by Deb Gau Members of the Brown, Lyon, Redwood and Renville County Emergency Response Unit handcuff a person during a training exercise at the former West Side Elementary in Marshall last week.

MARSHALL — It was a scene that looked very different from a typical school day at West Side Elementary.

Inside the former school office — now empty — a group of law enforcement officers from the Brown, Lyon, Redwood and Renville (BLRR) County Emergency Response Unit gathered around a table with communications equipment.

A whiteboard in the room outlined a training scenario: A man role-playing the part of a suspect in a domestic violence incident was inside one of the classrooms, and he wasn’t coming out.

The goal for members of the ERU was to negotiate with the suspect and resolve the scenario peacefully, said BLRR ERU Commander Jason Jacobson.

“We never want to escalate situations,” Jacobson said.

The former West Side Elementary building in Marshall has been empty for weeks as it is prepared for eventual demolition. But the empty building offered a unique opportunity for area emergency responders. Last week, law enforcement training was held at the school.

The new owners of the West Side property, Marshall Public Schools, and local emergency responders worked together to arrange training time in the vacant school building, said Cody Dyshaw, general manager of M.A.A.C., Inc. M.A.A.C. has been preparing the building for demolition.

“We knew we had some time when we wouldn’t be in the building,” Dyshaw said.

So, they extended a window of time for law enforcement training in the school.

The BLRR ERU conducted training exercises at the school on Oct. 7. Marshall firefighters also held training at the school this week.

Jacobson said the ERU is called in for high-risk law enforcement situations, including situations where a suspect has barricaded themselves in a building. The unit includes tactical responders, negotiators and medics.

“Every month, we train,” Jacobson said.

A lot of the time, the ERU trains at sites like abandoned farm places, but a building like West Side offered a different set of possibilities, he said.

On Oct. 7, members of the ERU broke up into smaller groups to do a couple of different training exercises in the school. One group started with the negotiation scenario. Negotiators in the school office went over the scenario, while at the other end of the building a tactical team waited outside the room where the “suspect” was.

The team set up a phone connecting to a negotiator and put it outside the room.

“Can you see what door that’s by?” one officer asked the actor inside the room.

Eventually, the ERU were able to convince the actor to come out, and handcuffed him without incident.

At the same time the negotiation exercise was going on, a different group of ERU members were getting some hands-on practice at breaching doors. Officers used a battering ram to force a crowbar-like tool into the door latch and pry the door open.

Sgt. Adam Connor of the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office said the empty school building had some good features for law enforcement training. And because the building will be torn down, training can get more physical.

The ERU trains in a variety of buildings, “But they don’t have doors we can actually break all the time,” he said. West Side also had solid wood doors and metal door frames, which the ERU doesn’t get to train with very often, Connor said.

Jacobson and Connor said the ERU was “very appreciative” of the chance to train in the old school.

“When these opportunities come up, we jump on them,” Connor said.

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