SIOUX FALLS, SD -
A Sioux Falls mother says she's troubled by the prospect of armed officers surrounding houses, with guns drawn, across the street from her daughter's school. That's the scenario that will likely play out at four abandoned homes near Mark Twain Elementary on Friday. It's part of a week-long SWAT training exercise. This parent questions the timing of the training.
Members of the SWAT team like to use realistic settings for their training, so they'll often practice inside abandoned buildings throughout Sioux Falls. But one Mark Twain mother thinks the SWAT training couldn't come at a worse time, on the heels of this week's shooting at the Washington Navy Yard.
These empty houses across from Mark Twain Elementary are slated to be torn down or moved to make way for construction of a new grade school. But in the meantime, they'll serve as training grounds for members of the SWAT team.
"Training venues of this nature are generally not that easy to find or come across. Just because it lets us get into the homes and in some of them, we can actually do some work where we actually breach doors," Sioux Falls SWAT Commander Sgt. Jeff Garden said.
Authorities have told the school about Friday's training and the school in turn, notified parents. Safety officers will oversee the training. The SWAT members won't use live rounds. But that comes as little comfort to Sonya Engels, whose daughter attends Mark Twain.
"How do you tell a 10-year-old that yeah, they're going to be using real guns, but the bullets aren't going to be real? I mean, that's just confusing.
Engels says recent national tragedies involving gun violence will heighten fears of Mark Twain students who see the SWAT exercise unfold across from their school.
"I understand it's important to do those training sessions, but I also know that from listening to my daughter talk that it's frightening, too," Engels said.
Engels would like to see the training take place on a weekend, when kids aren't in school. But the SWAT commander says that would create a scheduling nightmare for the 40-some officers involved.
"With the amount of personnel that we have in, weekends are really not an issue, because we have people from all over the state coming in," Garden said.
Garden says students will see very little of the actual training since much of it takes place inside the houses. He says with such a large SWAT presence in the neighborhood, the school will likely be the safest place in the city.
The SWAT team will train at a vacant apartment building across from Terry Redlin Elementary on Thursday.
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