At a typical home football game, players and coaches roam Owen Field and over 86,000 fans fill the stands of Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. But on a Friday afternoon after the end of the spring semester, there were no players on the field and no fans in the stands. There were no yard markers, pylons or even field goal posts.
Instead, there were bullet traps scattered about the field, and 23 snipers in the stands.
Between Monday, May 13 and Friday, May 17, the university, OUPD and Tacflow Academy — a company that specializes in weapons training for law enforcement, military personnel and civilians — held weapons training on campus for officers from across the country to prepare law enforcement for dealing with hostile situations at sporting events. The company offers several different courses, but the one held on campus was called Police Sniper Response to a Public Venue.
The first day of the course was held at Norman Police Department's gun range, where Tacflow's lead instructor, Mark Lang, and his team of instructors assessed the shooting prowess of the 23 officers taking the course. The officers hailed from a variety of places throughout the country, such as Norman, Atlanta, Georgia, and Rochester, New York.
Lang took the officers to the Lloyd Noble Center on Tuesday, May 14, the second day, and concluded the course at the football stadium. Lang said that the Lloyd Noble was a good location for the second day because it allowed the officers to work with shorter range firing distances.
Lang — who also has worked for Dallas SWAT for over 20 years — developed this course himself . Him and his instructors have gone to a variety of campuses across the country, such as UNLV, Alabama, Auburn and Oklahoma State. He said the course generally receives positive feedback from campuses and other venues that host them.
“What we have found with the guests — the fans, the student-athletes, the cheerleaders and the band — (is that) there’s two things they assume are in place: safety and security" Lang said. “We have been fortunate that we’ve never had an attack on a sporting venue in the United States, but if we sit back and assume that never will occur here, then that will open up the possibility of it occurring here.”
What makes working in law enforcement difficult is the immense pressure and decision-making that goes into it, Lang said. In some cases, officers only have seconds or less to make the call on what to do. To combat this, Jair Brown, one of the instructors at the training, said he falls back on his own personal experience as a SWAT member and puts the trainees in those positions.
“We try to give them as close to real-world experiences as possible. So I know myself, (Lang) and the other officers derive our training on our real-world experiences. That’s been my stance on how I instruct since day one," Brown said. "I’m going to share with anyone who’s willing to listen what I’ve been through personally, whether it’s been a live operation that went sideways, or one that’s gone great. These guys have the opportunity to learn from us and what we're doing in different jurisdictions and areas. Many of the drills we’re doing are based on real things that happened.”
Coming to OU was something Lang had been wanting to do for awhile, but he struggled to get the trip off the ground. Some members of Norman Police Department took the course in 2012 and gave positive remarks about it to other members of the local law enforcement community, and that’s brought it to the attention of OUPD. Lang and OUPD Deputy Chief Kent Ray have been in contact trying to get this course to Norman for several years now, but there were various roadblocks that prevented it from happening.
Ray said having snipers in the stadium for the home football games is nothing new, and that they have been in place for years. But he feels this program could better equip local officers for game day security.
“It’s something that was out there and we’ve been trying to get it for a little while," Ray said. "We’ve got it here now, and it ensures that the officers that protect this venue are trained up with the best tactics and equipment that can be used.”
The training itself is in-depth and features a variety of different looks for the officers. On Friday, when it was open to the media, the training was set up in various stations with different instructors at each one. There were snipers stationed in areas from the lower levels of the stadium, all the way to the highest point on campus. Lang said that the other days of training included improvised explosive scenarios and determining when officers have probable cause to use deadly force.
The content that the course teaches has evolved over the years. Lang said that each time he teaches, he picks up new things and adds them to the curriculum. Along with that, because every venue is different, it brings new ways he has to bring to this teaching.
“This was developed by doing it, and I think that’s what most of these guys here can appreciate," Lang said. "There’s no pie in the sky, there’s no ‘in theory this would work.’ It is practical application. It was born because (of) what we’ve done at various places. The curriculum is organically produced and it has evolved, and I never teach two classes that are the same. There are a little nuances that are different that change how we run one course or another.”
Like the trainees, the instructors themselves were from all around the country. Lang analogized Tacflow's instructors to Sooner football players like Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield. He said that in the same way Murray and Mayfield were among the most highly touted football prospects in the last few years, his instructors are among the most elite ones in his field.
Brown is one of those elite instructors. Brown has worked with Las Vegas Metro SWAT since 2006, where he serves as entryman and sniper for the. On Friday, he was training officers in the higher-level suites. He went through a simple three, two, one style training method with the trainees. On three, the snipers locate the target. On two, they breathe. And on one, they fire.
Brown said the general principles like counting down to a shot and breathing are often overlooked, and that the way the job is portrayed in popular culture is not entirely accurate.
"When we start talking with people who are on the outside looking in, there’s a fairly large disconnect as far as what our capabilities are, what we’re doing and what we’re there for,” Brown said. “The general community and populous, are kind of driven by television and movies. People will say, ‘Why didn’t you shoot the gun out of his hand?’ or something. Well, that’s not really practical."
As he walked through each portion of the training, Lang emphasized his belief in the importance of having quality security at public venues. He said that the lack of any real threats or attacks is a testament to the security program in place at OU.
"Here’s what’s hard to quantify: fans are here, OU’s got a great security plan and they’ve allowed for all this training," Lang said. "But how do you measure the value of the security if season after season after season, nothing happens? That is a success in and of itself."