Press-Republican

January 25, 2013

University Police learn from active shooter training

Plattsburgh officers carried unloaded weapons for active-shooter training

By FELICIA KRIEG
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — University Police are now “more prepared” should a school shooting happen at SUNY Plattsburgh, Police Chief Arlene Sabo said.

The department recently completed a series of four active-shooter training days. Officers were trained in a scenario based on an initial single-officer response to a campus attack involving a gunman.

Officers carried unloaded training weapons for portions of the eight-hour course, which is recognized as a best practice by the New York State Department of Criminal Justice.

It’s coincidental that the first training day was scheduled less than a month after the Newtown, Conn., shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

‘YOU CAN’T WAIT’

The way police approach a shooting situation has changed drastically over the years, Sabo said.

At the time of Columbine High School shootings almost 14 years ago, the protocol for shooting situations was to call in members of law enforcement who would know how to respond to the situation and wait for them to arrive, she said.

“You can’t do that. You can’t wait,” she said of the new methods.

It may take 15 or 20 minutes for reinforcements to arrive at the site of the shooting, Sabo said, so police officers need to know what to do should they be the only officer present initially as the shooting is happening.

REACTING TO SHOOTER

Although 93 percent of crimes involving college students happen off campus, Sabo said, it’s important for the campus community to be prepared for anything.

And that’s not limited to the campus community and police. Preparedness is everyone’s responsibility, Sabo said.

Victims have three choices during an attack: run, hide or fight back, she said.

“If you can get out safely, get out,” Sabo said, noting that awareness of exits is key.

Fighting back is the last and worst-case scenario, Sabo said.

But, “if it’s too late ... don’t just be sitting ducks.”

For instance, victims who are hiding from a shooter in a closet should try to come up with a plan of what to do should the person find them, Sabo said.

And if victims see police, they shouldn’t run to them, she said, because they could be seen as a threat by police officers who have limited information.

“Don’t run at the police,” Sabo said. “They are going to where the shots are being fired.”

PREVENTION

Of course, the ideal situation would be preventing a shooting or other tragedy from happening in the first place, Sabo said.

“We need to understand that prevention is the solution.”

Shooters often display certain behaviors before the event, and some may be mentally ill and in need of immediate treatment.

“There isn’t a profile (for potential shooters), but there’s red-flag behaviors,” Sabo said.

The person may have violent fantasies and may write about or draw violent scenes. He or she may exhibit a lack of empathy, experience paranoia or have a fascination with well-known shootings, Sabo said.

In almost all cases, the person will tell someone he or she is planning a shooting before doing it, Sabo said.

“People need to take it seriously.”

‘PIECE OF PUZZLE’

This training is just one piece of the puzzle of campus preparedness for a variety of situations, said Michelle Ouellette, director of public relations and publications at the college.

Committees at the college have held meetings and had training for many emergencies, including a campus flu epidemic or a lost child at commencement, Ouellette said.

All students are now automatically enrolled in SUNY NY-Alert, a program that alerts students via text message, email or phone call in the event of an emergency on campus, Sabo said. Enrollment used to be optional but not anymore.

It’s imperative that students provide the college with updated contact information so they can be easily reached in the event of an emergency, Sabo said.

College faculty and staff learned tactics in a workshop that can be used to calm an individual in a tense situation using “verbal judo.”

Faculty, parents, students and administrators need to be observant of people who may be in mental distress and could be a danger to themselves or others, Ouellette said.

“I think it really begins with us being a community and taking care of each other.”

Email Felicia Krieg: fkrieg@pressrepublican.com

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