Police work at the scene of the shootings at Schemengees Bar and Grille in Lewiston. Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald

Ten years ago, the FBI set a national standard for training police on how to respond to active shooters, but Maine has yet to adopt that standard widely.

The Maine Criminal Justice Academy requires its cadets to complete a training program different from the one the FBI endorses, but the state has no requirements for active shooter training for veteran officers. Instead, the state allows departments to set their own policies on keeping their officers up to date on the latest tactics.

Some experts say this fractured approach can be problematic when trying to respond to a scene in a unified and efficient manner.

“You don’t have time to play catch up in these situations,” said Brian Higgins, a lecturer at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the former chief of police in Bergen County, New Jersey. “You need agencies whose officers have been trained the same way so when you have a situation like in Maine, it doesn’t matter what uniform the cops are wearing, they can go in as a team.”

Training has not been raised as a problem in response to last month’s mass shootings in Lewiston, but previous mass shootings have prompted other states to review and update their requirements.

A 2022 shooting at a school in Uvalde, Texas, prompted Gov. Greg Abbott to issue a directive for all school districts to get training on the FBI-endorsed ALERRT program, which was first developed at Texas State University.


In Massachusetts, state officials said in March that they would use ALERRT to train police and first responders on a statewide framework for hostile incident responses, including active shooters. Nearby Vermont and New Hampshire also use ALERRT training at their police academies.

Not everyone agrees that a more unified approach is necessary in Maine.

“I think in a perfect world, yes, we would all be trained exactly the same,” said Charles Rumsey, the Cumberland police chief and immediate past president of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association. “That would be super convenient, but it’s not always going to be possible and I don’t think it impedes our ability to confront a threat.”


Guidelines for combating active shooters have evolved as mass shootings have become more common over the past two decades.

Prior to the Columbine school shooting in 1999, police encountering an active shooter were trained to set up a perimeter and wait for a SWAT team to arrive and breach the building, said John Cantarella, ALERRT’s regional manager for the northeast. The slayings in Colorado, which left 13 people dead, prompted two Texas police departments to partner with Texas State University in 2002 to create ALERRT, which stands for Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training.


The program’s courses emphasize the importance of finding and confronting an active shooter as quickly as possible, even if an officer arrives on the scene alone. The training involves a mix of classroom work and simulations based on real-world scenarios. It’s meant to serve as a common foundation that allows first responders from different departments to seamlessly work together.

In 2013, after 26 people – 20 of them children – were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, President Barack Obama ordered the FBI to take a bigger role in training local law enforcement agencies for mass shootings. The agency named ALERRT’s two-day “Level 1” training as the national standard and mandated the training for all its agents. Several states and major cities have followed suit, according to the program’s website.

State and federal funds generally cover the cost of bringing trainings to local departments.

Some law enforcement officials, like Detective Sgt. Kyle Kassa of the York County Sheriff’s Office, take longer “train-the-trainer” courses that certify graduates to teach ALERRT methods.

“The expectation is obviously to bring this training back in-house to our folks,” he said.

Training locals to disseminate ALERRT teachings throughout their department and region is vital, because the organization could never reach such a broad audience directly, Cantarella said. But in Maine, as in most other states, it’s difficult to track exactly who has received comprehensive active shooter trainings.


Cantarella said it’s commonplace for officers to share small pieces of the larger curriculum in informal trainings. That approach has some benefits, but it can also mean that different departments get different pieces of ALERRT instead of the unified training meant to ensure different agencies know the same strategies for handling active shooters.


Training requirements for cadets and veteran officers are different in Maine, according to Shannon Moss, spokesperson for the Maine Department of Public Safety. Cadets receive seven hours of active shooter training in a mandatory basic program at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, while veterans generally “would have to take a class by an outside training vendor, or an agency could bring in someone to train their staff,” Moss said.

The police academy does not use ALERRT. Academy Director James Peck did not respond directly to multiple messages requesting an interview and through Moss declined to speak to the Press Herald.

Moss did not respond to questions about why the academy doesn’t use the ALERRT program, but said the training that is used is similar. She said it’s based on guidance from the National Tactical Officers Association and “best practices with our state of Maine law enforcement partners and practitioners.”

The academy requirement was put in place after Columbine.


But active shooter training has changed since then and there is no statewide mandate that veteran officers take refresher courses on active shooter situations. Moss did say that if an officer signs up for an ALERRT training, it counts toward the state’s continuing education elective requirements.

Still, the state leaves it up to each department and sometimes to individual officers to decide if they will get additional training and what that training will be.

Some departments, including Portland, require all officers to complete a course like LASER, which is similar to ALERRT and is offered through Louisiana State University’s National Center for Biomedical Research and Training. But many other agencies leave it up to individual officers to sign up for such trainings, said Kassa, the York County Sheriff’s Office detective.

“I think a lot of it is proactive work by guys or gals who want to become involved in this,” he said.

With no state mandate specifically requiring active shooter training, it’s on police chiefs and sheriffs to make sure their forces are adequately trained.

After news broke that Uvalde police waited more than an hour to confront the shooter inside Robb Elementary School, Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce deemed it important to teach his officers not to hesitate. Last December, each member of the department participated in a four-hour training taught by a former tactical team commander.


At other agencies around the state, law enforcement officers described different approaches to ongoing training.

Eric O’Brien, deputy chief of police in Kennebunk, said his department tries to do active shooter training each year.

“Last year during a school break our school resource officer organized a training at the high school for us to familiarize ourselves with the building and go through a few scenarios,” he said.

Lt. Derrick St. Laurent of the Lewiston Police Department said that department typically has active shooter training at a local school during the summer as well as two “ranges” per year where they qualify firearms and conduct tactical drills with specialized equipment.

The department also sends officers to specialized active shooter trainings or train-the-trainer events, and those officers then come back and share best practices with the department, St. Laurent said. They have used ALERRT as well as another program called RAIDER, which focuses on the approach an officer first on the scene should take.



Higgins, the lecturer from John Jay College, said both ALERRT and the LSU training are among the most popular and highly regarded.

Asked if it’s problematic for a department to do training in-house and not use an outside group, he said it depends on the agency’s size and experience. It can be problematic, however, if departments in the same region aren’t on the same page with protocols.

And while national data on each state’s approach to active shooter trainings is hard to come by, Higgins said more states are moving toward greater coordination between agencies.

“It’s more of a problem when you have a bunch of smaller police departments,” Higgins said. “They have to rely on each other.”

Rumsey, the Cumberland chief, said he’s seen a lot of training systems over the years. Cumberland used ALERRT about a year ago to train half its officers, and Rumsey said he’s working on bringing the program back to train the rest.

But he said he would have to evaluate specifics if the state were to propose mandatory uniform training.


“Everyone being on the same page is probably preferable,” Rumsey said. “But I think not being trained with the exact same systems doesn’t negate our ability to go in and be effective.”

So far, there has been no push for mandates.

Chairman Dan Wathen, Former Chief Justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, left, and others on the Independent Commission pass a motion during the first organizational meeting of the commission investigating the facts of the October 25th tragedy in Lewiston. The public meeting was held at the Cross Building in Augusta,, Maine, on Monday. Also pictured with Wathen from left are Paula Silsby, Dr. Anthony Ng and Geoff Rushlau. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

A spokesperson for Sen. Pinny Beebe-Center, D-Rockland, co-chair of the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, said the ongoing investigation of the shootings and response by an independent commission should help determine whether the Legislature needs to take any more steps.

Rep. Chad Perkins, R-Dover-Foxcroft, and Sen. Matt Harrington, R-Sanford, who also serve on the criminal justice committee, cautioned against any kind of mandate. They said more training is never a bad thing, but departments and officers are already busy and struggle with funding.

“We’re always trying to get more training on every possible situation but the biggest obstacle is always lack of funding, whether it’s active shooters or investigative, any kind of training,” said Perkins, a former law enforcement officer.

“I don’t think there’s any need to mandate it in statute because it’s already happening,” said Harrington, who is a part-time reserve officer in Kennebunk. “You could always do more of it.”


Joyce, the Cumberland County sheriff, acknowledged the potential problems that can arise when active shooter training is optional. But he suggested more mandates could be hard on departments that are already overstressed and under-resourced.

“If we did all of the things we should do, probably our deputies would be off the street a third of the year,” Joyce said.

Because of the difficulty of rotating everyone through even a four-hour session, it took Joyce’s department a full week to complete its active shooter training last December, he said. And while programs like ALERRT deliver trainings to departments at no direct charge, limited grant funding means some have to wait to receive help. Even when grants do cover the sessions, it can be expensive for departments to pay overtime for officers covering the streets while their colleagues train.

Despite these costs, more public safety agencies are requesting active shooter trainings, and several states are working on mandates. In Texas, all cadets are now required to take a 16-hour ALERRT training, and each of the state’s 80,000 officers must take a 16-hour refresher course every two years, Cantarella said. But that program requires several million dollars in state funding each year.

Maine police officers who spoke to the Press Herald said that even though the state doesn’t mandate ALERRT training, they believe the fundamentals of active shooter threat response are understood. Still, some said they’d support a more unified approach.

“I would fully endorse that, and I think a lot of other people would too,” Kassa said. “If we have annual mandates that we have to learn how to use a fire extinguisher, we can have a mandate that says that we can understand the basics of mass casualty events.”

Staff Writer Stephen Singer contributed to this report.

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