Empty store becomes active shooter training classroom

Kentwood, active shooter training
Police hold active shooter training in the now-vacant Sears in Woodland Mall. (May 2017)


KENTWOOD, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s the event most of us think happens somewhere else, but mass shootings and terror attacks in places like Newtown, Connecticut; San Bernardino, California; and Orlando, Florida prove that “it can’t happen here” just doesn’t apply.

“It used to be … if this ever happens. Now we’re really thinking it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” Kentwood Police Department Capt. Bryan Litwin said.

Kentwood police recently hosted active shooter training drills at the now-vacant Sears store in the Woodland Mall. The big, empty space has multiple rooms, two stories, escalators and elevators. It’s the kind of environment and scenario emergency responders have faced in real-life situations.

“Everything was cleared out in there,” Litwin said, “but then you start throwing in for a place that’s in business, all the clothing and kiosks and all those different things that might be in your way, it kinds throws another wrinkle into it.”

Police from Grandville, home to RiverTown Crossings Mall, also took part in the training.

Kentwood, Grandville, Cascade Township and Cutlerville fire departments also putting on flak jackets and helmets to train along police officers, the groups learning each other’s lingo and tactics.

Kentwood, active shooter training
Police hold active shooter training in the now-vacant Sears in Woodland Mall. (May 2017)

In past mass shootings, rescuers often waited for police to secure the scene. Now, police say that takes too long.

“As large as that place is, it could take us hours to clear that, so we need to get in and save lives and get people out of there,” Litwin said.

“We’ve learned better communications on how to work with a group that we’ve really not worked with at this level,” Kentwood Deputy Fire Chief Gregg Ginebaugh said. “If and when something like this does happen, we’re all going to be there and we all got to work off the same sheet of music.”