ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- As we talk about the tragedy in Connecticut, we can't help but remember the Columbine school shooting in Littleton, Colorado.
In April of 1999, Eric Harris an Dylan Klebold gunned down twelve students and a teacher, before killing themselves. That single incident forever changed the way police approach school security. And the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office was among the first to make those changes.
Until the the massacre at Columbine, it had been police procedure to set up a perimeter and wait for a SWAT team to handle an active shooter situation.
But on that day, it took 45 minutes for officers to enter Columbine. By that time, fifteen people were dead.
Sgt. Chuck Mulligan with the St. Johns Co. Sheriff's Office said, "Our sheriff at the time, Sheriff Neil J. Perry, he stepped forward and said we are going to take a different approach."
That different approach included training St. Johns County deputies to respond to an active shooter scenario immediately.
"We would be proactive, and we would immediately respond to that threat. Our first deputies on scene will go in and engage the issue at hand," he said.
It was a policy change that Sgt. Mulligan said received some criticism at first. Parents were uncomfortable with the idea of deputies walking inside schools with guns. "Today, of course, that is a national model. And I think hindsight says that we were right on track with that."
Now, St. Johns County deputies train regularly on an active shooter simulator. "This system allows the deputy to feel, if you will, the scenario unfold before him or her, and react to that. And be evaluated on their performance," said Sgt. Mulligan.
The Columbine tragedy forever changed the way law enforcement handles school shootings. But as we learned last week in Connecticut, it's impossible to prevent them.
That new training simulator in St. Johns County was purchased earlier this year by the sheriff's office, using seized drug money.