HARVEY COUNTY, Kan. One year after the Hesston mass shooting that killed three and hurt fourteen people, law enforcement agencies say they’ve made changes to improve their response in case anything like that ever happens again.
Some changes are significant while others are smaller, but agencies that responded – like the Hesston and Newton police departments, the Harvey County Sheriff’s Office, the KBI – all say what happened nearly one year ago has changed how they operate.
“There are some changes looking at the incident afterwards, there’s some things that could’ve done better,” said Eric Murphy, the Newton police chief.
The law enforcement agencies were all credited with a strong response. They had already been training for an active shooter situation, but say some things are tough to fully prepare for.
“Some of the things that it did change for us was making sure we had the proper and updated equipment to take care of a situation like that," said Chad Gay, the Harvey County Sheriff. "After Hesston happened, we decided we probably ought to invest in some new equipment. And specifically rifles," he said.
The sheriff says he knows some officers responded to the shooter with their handguns.
"I can’t even imagine going into a building with this thing, after a guy with an AK-47 because somebody identified that in the 911 call," Gay said.
Others responded to the shooter with AR-15's that the sheriff calls outdated.
"We got guys going into that with a 15 year old gun and sometimes that takes away the reliability of it," Gay said.
The sheriff’s office and newton police department are both upgrading to Sig Sauer Ar-15s, which cost about $1,500 each.
The sheriff's office also ordered sound suppressors and and the police department has purchased two new rifle rated shields.
Other supplies are getting an upgrade too.
"We’ve evaluated our first aid kits, and provided tourniquets in those. We’ve found after the Excel incident, at least one of the deputies utilized a tourniquet to stop the bleeding of one individual," Murphy said.
Hesston also brought changes in shooter response training.
"We sent people to the ALICE (alert, lockdown, inform, counter, and evacuate) class to be instructors of it so we can start putting that in place in our community," Gay said.
They’re making sure citizens – at schools, hospitals, or businesses – all respond the same way.
"Each of the school districts had a different policy with how to respond to an intruder or active killer," Murphy said. We wanted a standardized training throughout the county to an active shooter situation, he said.
The excel mass shooting, also a learning lesson for the KBI.
"Hesston was different in that there were so many people wounded hurt or killed, and it really did test our ability to respond quickly and with enough people. It maxed us in terms of our crime scene response team, said Tony Weingartner, the assistant director of the KBI.
The bureau says it’s changed procedures on how different regions communicate and share resources more effectively.
"It was all about making sure we had the best procedures in place to respond to a mass casualty event like Hesston," Weingartner said.
The Hesston police chief Doug Schroeder said their department was in pretty good shape in terms of equipment, but they have improved their training, by adding the ability to run through scenarios in house with live role players and officers.
They say all the changes that came out of Hesston ultimately made them stronger.
"There's a wide variety of things we do and we have to be prepared for all of it," Murphy said.