Longwood And Law Enforcement Deal With Reality

Published 2:44 pm Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The man with the gun walking down Brock Commons was play-acting.


Moreover, the man with the gun was a local law enforcement officer.

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One of the “good guys.”

The bullets weren't real.

There were no bullets at all.

Not a “bad guy” in sight.

The scene in front of the Greenwood Library at Longwood University this winter was simply a scenario being played out for training in case the unthinkable ever becomes the unimaginable coming true.

But as someone who has walked the length of Brock Commons hundreds of times, generally when it's filled with students talking with each other on their way to class, the presence of a gun with a finger on its trigger felt quite evil and real to a corner of my mind that kept urging me to run for cover.

The SWAT team coming up the steps and around the corner of the library was real. Had the man with the gun been real, they would have been carrying real weapons with real ammunition. Training scenario or not, I was real glad to see them.

One day, any one of us might be walking down Brock Commons or any sidewalk in town and the bullets in the bad guy's gun may be real.

Law enforcement doesn't train because they know a crisis will never occur.

They train because they know a crisis-a hostage situation, a man with a gun, or an active shooter-could happen at any time.

As Sherlock Holmes once observed, it is a grave mistake to confuse improbable with impossible. A Virginia Tech-like crisis may be improbable here but it is not impossible.

Longwood University Police Department Chief Bob Beach understands the difference between improbable and impossible.

“We're stuck between Richmond and Lynchburg, a mobile community that's tied together by (Route) 460. Gang activity, drug dealers, all of that stuff in and around,” he told The Herald on the day the training was held. “We're a focal point for a lot of those people. The potential for something bad to happen here is very high.”

Chief Beach's words need to be understood.

The potential for something bad to happen here is not non-existent.

Nor is it slight.

Not even average.

Or above average.

The potential for something bad to happen here is not high.

The potential for something bad to happen here is “very high,” Chief Beach said, knowing the full weight his printed words would carry.

Bad things, we know, have already happened here.

Those terrible events haven't happened out in public in a crowded university commons, however.

This most recent training at Longwood saw members of the Virginia State Police, the Farmville Police Department (including Chief Doug Mooney), and the Prince Edward County Sheriff's Department join LU police for a full day of answering “what-ifs?”

Thankfully, for this community, those law enforcement officers are the answer to the terrifying “what-ifs.” And they take their responsibilities with the degree of seriousness demanded of them. Lives, they know, are at stake, including their own.

Longwood University, with its Emergency Alert System-which includes a siren and voice alert that many of us have heard during tests of the system-continues to take the necessary steps to ensure that if the unthinkable does happen the alert, and response to the alert, will be as quick and effective as possible.

It must be.

“Here's the reality-Virginia Tech, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Delaware, any of the places where you've seen these things happen-unfortunately the people that die, die within the first minute, two minutes of the event,” Chief Beach told us.

“The people that get saved are the ones that save themselves because they know the event's occurring.

“They get notification, and they're able to secure themselves and they get themselves out of harm's way,” Chief Beach said. “That's a big portion of what the alert system's supposed to do.”

He believes the alert system will do what it is supposed to do.

“I will guarantee that this alert system will work perfect,”

The university is ably joined by area law enforcement, including the Virginia State Police, the Town of Farmville Police Department and the Prince Edward County Sheriff's Department, to respond with speed, intelligence, and courage.

And we all pray they never have to.