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In what served as a dual-purpose training session, a group of law enforcement personnel from throughout this part of the state conducted an exercise on Friday afternoon at Vandalia Community High School.
That exercise allowed about a dozen members of the Illinois Law Enforcement System tactical team for regions 9 and 11 to bone up on a lockdown situation in a school.
At the same time, teachers and administrators in the Vandalia School District learned what would happen in such a situation.
“Every year, we do lockdown drills for schools, and I wanted to do one here,” said Jeff Ray, a sergeant with the Vandalia Police Department who has been with the ILES team for about three years.
“In the past, when we’ve done a lockdown drill, me and a couple of other officers would just walk through and check doors,” Ray said.
“As we practiced a lockdown situation, I wanted the teachers to experience it, let them see it.
“I wanted them to know what would happen after an incident, let them know that they could potentially be in there (a barricaded classroom) for hours, and how this team does its job," he said.
On Friday morning, the ILES team members conducted a training session on a school bus.
“We do a lot of practice on buses, but most of them are on metro buses, so that’s a different type of bus and situation,” Ray said. “We train for a hostage situation or a student with a gun.
“We’ve gone to great lengths to secure our schools, but our buses are still somewhat lacking – the driver is the only security.
“Anything that can happen in a school can potentially happen on a bus,” he said.
Ray, who about seven or eight months ago was promoted to assistant team leader, said he learned about the regional tactical team from the former commander while taking a law enforcement class in Salem.
After Larry Eason became Vandalia’s police chief, Ray asked about the possibility of joining the team. Eason gave Ray his support.
“I’d heard about the team, but really didn’t have the opportunity at first to be a part of it,” Ray said.
“We didn’t have anybody from this area on the team, and I thought it would help our area if I were a part of it.
“What’s neat about this thing is that if we have a barricaded situation or a gunman somewhere, we could call these guys and have at least four or five of them here in 30 minutes or less.
“We also have an armored car in Mt. Vernon that would be available for incidents here,” Ray said.
“With this team, there are a lot of tools and equipment and manpower that we wouldn’t have otherwise for a situation here,” he said.
Law enforcement officers interested in joining the tactical team fill out an application, then go through an interview.
If selected, an officer becomes one of about 35 members who cover 34 counties in Southeastern Illinois.
Team members regularly practice on the first and third Wednesday of each month, and also hold a number of other training sessions.