Tavares Police Train for the Worst Case Scenario

TAVARES, Florida—While a lot of people are out enjoying the Florida summer, law enforcement agencies around Lake County have been training and preparing for the “what if?”

Tavares Police Department invited Inside Lake to join them in active shooter training this week at Tavares Elementary School. They trained two days, for eight hours each, in the blazing July sun.

“We do this once a year,” TPD Lt. Sarah Coursey said Thursday, “Each sworn officer goes through the training.”

Tavares Police officers approach the entrance of Tavares Elementary School Thursday during the department’s annual active shooter training. PHOTO: Marilyn M. Aciego/Inside Lake

TPD invited other local agencies to join them in the training, including Astatula Police Department, Eustis Police Department, Howey-in-the-Hills Police Department and Mount Dora Police Department. Lake County Schools Supervisor of Safety and Security Joseph Mabry also participated, and on Thursday, he portrayed the “bad guy” during several scenarios.

 Mabry, who is also a school guardian, told Inside Lake, the safety of the children is paramount, “It’s the most important thing we do,” he said. “We want our parents to feel safe; ultimately, it’s our responsibility.”

Coursey said TPD invited other local agencies to join them because if they were faced with an active shooter situation, many different law enforcement agencies would not hesitate to go to the scene and help, she said.

“They would all respond,” Coursey said. “It just goes to show what kind of law enforcement we have in Lake County.”  

Officers from MDPD participated in the scenarios and an EPD captain stopped by during training, Coursey said. Eustis Police Department and Leesburg Police Department also held their own active shooter trainings this month.

Led by TPD firearms instructors Sgt. Jason Mahaney and Officer Ben Carter, officers participated in the scenarios to prepare for multiple situations that could arise. Mahaney and Carter critiqued each officer’s response; telling each one what they did right, and what they did wrong.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel,” Mahaney said. “When it comes to stuff like this, there is no absolute. Any time we can change our view of certain things, we can improve. Nobody is going to get it right every time.”

Tavares Police Department officers participating in TPD’s annual active shooter training, July 2022. VIDEO: Marilyn M. Aciego/Inside Lake

Mahaney, who portrayed the active shooter for most of Thursday, explained what they teach officers to look for; stimuli and indicators to assess the situation immediately. Stimuli can be many things, like screams or the sound of shots and an indicator could be shell casings.

“In the presence of those indicators, you can at least get a path (to the shooter,)” he said.

Carter, a former Navy combat medic, watched officers as they entered the school, sometimes just a single officer, and some in groups. Officers faced different issues as they entered and made their way through the school. The issues were discussed, and solutions were created to prevent those issues from happening in an actual situation.

Tavares Police Sgt. Jason Mahaney, right, critiques Det. Dana Scola’s response during active shooter training at Tavares Elementary School Thursday, while Lt. Jon Hall and Lt. Sarah Coursey listen in. Officers participated in different scenarios this week and were critiqued by TPD firearms instructors Mahaney and Officer Ben Carter. PHOTO: Marilyn M. Aciego/Inside Lake

Inside Lake is not providing tactical details about the scenarios in this story to ensure the safety of officers.

“We have to put ourselves in a position for the best possible outcome,” Carter explained.

Coursey, who was recently appointed TPD chief and assumes the position next month, said this training is one of the most important things they do each year.

“The large majority of us (TPD) are parents, it’s our promise to Lake County that we are going to protect your children and ours.”

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