Screaming students frantically bolted from a side entrance to the Humanities Building at the University at Albany.
Behind them emerged a lone gunman brandishing a revolver and shooting maniacally into the fleeing crowd. Advancing on the fusillade of shots was a quartet of local police officers in wedge formation, each taking aim at the menacing figure before them.
After a volley of shots, the gunman fell. The officers then split into pairs, guns drawn and walking side-by-side toward the motionless assailant.
“Left, move!” barked one officer as he and his partner advanced to the body.
“Contact!” the other yelled back as he kicked the fallen gunman’s pistol away.
Nick Minzgor looked at the spectacle and approached the officers. Stay tight together as you advance, he said; make sure you communicate loudly with each other.
Of course, the bullets being fired were pellets and the fleeing students were staff volunteers from UAlbany’s Residential Life office. And the gunman was an off-duty volunteer from the ambulance squad who didn’t mind getting pelted with a hail of air-propelled projectiles.
Minzgor, the owner and founder of the Active Shooter Training, was on campus Thursday to train 16 officers from eight law enforcement agencies on how to cope with a gunman determined to harm people. UAlbany’s Police Department sponsored the workshop this week, featuring Minzgor’s training and so-called active shooter drills.
Minzgnor said the training is to teach officers how to contend with situations where a shooter is advancing and the closest SWAT team
won’t arrive for nearly an hour. He said these situations are occurring with increasing frequency, meaning the first police arriving on the scene need to be prepared to respond with deadly force.
“Pretty much everybody teaches you have to kill the bad guy,” he said. “But we teach you how to use the 45 minutes before [SWAT] gets there efficiently.”
Minzgor, a member of the Kings County Sheriff’s Department SWAT team in Washington, founded his company after the Columbine High School massacre claimed the lives of 12 students and a teacher while 23 others were wounded. While deputies from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department were on the scene about five minutes after the first shot, it took SWAT team members nearly 40 minutes to arrive.
Thursday’s exercises involved a variety of indoor and outdoor scenarios. Some incorporated fake blood and mock victims, while others made use of smoke bombs. Minzgor said the idea is to recreate the first moments of a lethal attack so that the officers can get a feel for the chaos caused by active-shooter situations.
Training includes everything from how to care for injured victims of a shooting to the best tactics to confront a gunman on a rampage. Those attending the weeklong seminar will bring the techniques they learn to train officers from their own departments.
UPD spokesman Aran Mull said officers on the campus have been trained annually in emergency action response tactics since 2000. But he said the active shooter training brings these techniques to a more immediate level, where a lack of response can mean the loss of life.
Mull said the training wouldn’t have made much of a difference during UAlbany’s infamous shooting in 1994 when paranoid schizophrenic Ralph Tortorici used a rifle to hold a lecture center of 35 students hostage. He shot and wounded Jason McEnaney after the student attempted to wrest his weapon away.
But in that situation, Mull said, the shooter wasn’t on a rampage. In active-shooter cases, he said, the gunman typically will continue shooting until someone stops him.
“We’re talking an average of nine minutes from start to finish,” he said of active-shooter incidents. “We don’t have the time to get SWAT there. We need an immediate response.”
The sometimes-noisy training exercises drew the curiosity of several students and faculty walking past the Humanities Building near an area cordoned off for the event. But one passer-by quietly lamented about the training.
“It’s a shame we need to practice for something like this,” he said.