On the Beat with Lt. Berg

Lt-BergLt. J.W. Berg is Tucker’s liaison to the DeKalb County Police Department and can be contacted by email at jwberg@dekalbcountyga.gov or by phone at (678) 597-9040.

Like most of you, my heart breaks whenever I turn on the news and learn of another mass shooting. Whether occurring at a school full of innocent children, a beloved neighborhood grocery store or a festival of people enjoying being outside, the tragedy of these horrible incidents is no less impactful on our emotions and our souls. From Columbine to Uvalde, from Orlando to Buffalo and Las Vegas, I struggle to understand what has happened to our world that has made these incidents more common.

In DeKalb County, we are fortunate that a mass shooting incident has not occurred. However, we did come close to a major tragedy several years ago when a disturbed young man entered the recently built Ronald E McNair Elementary School. Carrying a powerful “assault” type rifle – and with plenty of ammunition – this individual certainly had the ability to take many lives that day. A quick response by law enforcement, coupled with the gentle counseling of a school employee, worked together to bring this incident to a safe resolution without the loss of any lives. We learned a great deal that afternoon, including the need to be prepared and ready for the next potential deadly incident.

Retired Smoke Rise Elementary School.Prior to that day, all officers with our department (and many officers from other local agencies) had been regularly training for just this type of “active shooter” incident. For several years we had been utilizing abandoned Dekalb County schools in our training, schools built in the 1950s that were being replaced by newer buildings. These older schools were ideal environments to practice our tactics and equipment in realistic, scenario-based training courses. The “simunition” rounds we used (like paintballs, only more accurate) stung if one was not paying attention and working well as a team to protect your fellow officers acting as teachers and students. To this day, I still have the scars to prove I learned some good lessons from those scenarios.

Today, we continue to improve and update our tactics and training in responding to various types of “active” shootings. Empty factories, shuttered shopping centers, and other businesses are utilized in our top-level scenario-based training. In addition, just recently all DKPD police supervisors completed a two-day training session in tactical decision making during critical incidents. This training involved analyzing video footage from critical incidents from across the country. During this course, our supervisors were challenged to think about better ways to bring major incidents, like school shootings, to a quicker and more peaceful endings.

Our DeKalb County School System is also fortunate to have their own dedicated police force. The DeKalb County School’s Department of Public Safety (dekalbschoolsga.org/public-safety) is a fully accredited law enforcement agency with its own Chief and an experienced and mature set of officers - many former DKPD officers. All middle and high schools in Dekalb County now have an armed police officer on location during school hours in addition to civilian campus security supervisors. Our school system also has a video surveillance system that would make the NSA proud! If my children were not too old now, I would feel comfortable sending them to any Dekalb County School, including those inside the City of Tucker.

While tragic, the news of yet another school or mass shooting provides us in law enforcement an opportunity to learn how to better respond to these heart-breaking events. As parents, brothers, sisters, daughters and sons, all of us in law enforcement get into this job to save lives and to make the world a better place. While we may not always get the job done perfectly, I can promise you that we are always trying to improve and get better at what we do.

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