EL CERRITO -- With the school shootings in Connecticut and movie theater shootings in Colorado fresh in people's minds, law enforcement agencies locally and nationwide are scrambling to prepare for a similar incident in their communities.

El Cerrito is no exception. The city's police department began what it calls "active shooter training" in October and held a live training session at private Tehiyah Day School on Tassajara Avenue late last year, said police Lt. Steve Bonini, who is leading the training for El Cerrito officers.

"We're not thinking about if (a shooting incident) is going to take place, but when," he said.

Bonini and other department specialists are learning strategies for dealing with a variety of shooting scenarios from outside consultants. Those trained, in turn, are passing on their knowledge to other members of the department.

"We're designing a course for when someone is actively shooting somewhere in our city to prep our guys to be ready for that," Bonini said.

Police try to avoid using their weapons against a shooter because it could expose people in harm's way to more danger, Bonini said.

"We can't just engage the person in an exchange of gunfire," he said "We have to use excellent field tactics and good officer safety."

Officers attend classroom training sessions on how to deal with one or more shooters in a variety of settings and then practice the strategies in active drills.

"We have to have come up with a good, solid tactical plan about how we're going to deploy rifles, how to deploy medical personnel, and how we're going to involve other agencies," Bonini said.

Officers used their own weapons loaded with blue and orange paint balls in role-playing exercises.

"Officers have to form into teams, get together to make a team decision and go in and confront the threat," Bonini said. "We have to account for the results of all weapons discharges."

The departmental training will continue until the end of the year. El Cerrito police also held live active shooter exercises at the closed Castro Elementary School in El Cerrito on March 30 and officers drilled by firing live rounds from behind their ballistic shields at the Concord Police Association Rifle/Pistol Range on April 11.

If a shooting incident were to occur at an El Cerrito secondary school, the West Contra Costa school district has school resource officers at El Cerrito High School and Portola Middle School who would likely have key roles as first responders.

"(As a school district) we have to assume that there are going to be weapons on a campus at some point," said West Contra Costa school board member Todd Groves, an El Cerrito resident. "Every school has to make that assumption."

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