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CPD officers completed active shooter training the month before Fifth Third Center shooting

'Things could have been totally different'
Posted at 5:00 AM, Sep 06, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-06 20:35:53-04

CINCINNATI — When a gunman aimed at innocent people at Fifth Third Center on Sept. 6, 2018, police responded within minutes.

The shooter entered the building at 9:06 a.m. By 9:11 a.m., police reported that the 29-year-old shooter was down.

The response was no accident.

The chilling body camera video from that day shows Cincinnati officers acting as a unit without hesitation. In fact, that is what they trained for just weeks prior to the shooting.

“I think without it, things could have been totally different,” said Officer Al Staples, a responding officer at the scene. He was first to offer assistance to Whitney Austin, who had been shot multiple times.

READ MORE: Nine people tell the story of the 2018 Fifth Third shooting and its aftermath

At the Cincinnati Police Academy, every officer was trained on how to respond during an active shooting last year, a decision made by Chief Eliot Isaac.

“I was very adamant that we needed to do more around active shooter training,” Isaac said. “We had done some things in the past, but we had not done any hands-on live training in quite a while.”

That training was completed in August. The shooting on Fountain Square happened in September.

Whether the decision to partake in more extensive training was pure luck or downright smart, it sure was timely.

“I was very glad we made that decision,” the chief said.

Officer Steve Peponis and Sgt. Dan Kavanaugh are two of the CPD staff members who train the rank and file.

“The most terrifying part for me was conducting this active shooter training for months before that incident happened,” Peponis said, “and the fear of one of our officers being injured … knowing how instrumental I was in training them to do that job. That was on my mind the most.”

One thing for everyone to consider when watching video of the officers who circled Fifth Third Center in an effort track and stop the shooter is this: None of the five officers had a history of working together.

“We do the exact same training for every single officer,” Kavanaugh explained, “so if they arrive - much like Fifth Third - if they arrive to a scene and it's an officer they've never worked with, all the tactics and skills they've learned are the same and they can work together.”

Three people were killed in the 2018 shooting at Fifth Third Center and two others were wounded. But having trained officers at the scene may have saved more lives, including the lives of fellow officers.

“This is a family,” Isaac said. “Each and every one of these officers who wear this uniform … that is something I am always concerned about. That is my greatest fear, is losing an officer in the line of duty.”

“It meant that we were doing something right,” Kavanaugh said. “The Fifth Third situation proved that what we are doing is beneficial.”