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How Capital Region police prepare for active shooters

How Capital Region police prepare for active shooters

'Everybody tries to train for the unexpected, but it’s hard'

Nearly 16 months after a gunman killed 49 people at an Orlando nightclub, at least five dozen people were killed in the country's latest mass shooting. Locally, law enforcement personnel are constantly preparing for the next one.

Roughly 60 people are dead as of Monday night, and more than 500 were wounded after a man opened fire from his Las Vegas hotel room on an outdoor concert festival taking place below, authorities said. Police have identified the gunman as Stephen Paddock, 64, who was found dead in his room at Mandalay Bay, along with nearly 20 rifles.

First reports of the shooting came in Sunday just after 10 p.m. local time, when officers reported they were pinned down by gunfire. Shortly before midnight, Las Vegas police reported a suspect was down. The incident is still under investigation, but authorities said they believe Paddock acted alone.

Though the incident took place thousands of miles away, Capital Region law enforcement officials are expecting to use lessons from the Las Vegas incident to train for potential active shooter situations locally.

“It’s always on the forefront of our minds that it’s a possibility in this day and age,” Schenectady Police Chief Eric Clifford said. “We think about what if this happened in our community, and we want to be prepared for it.”

Training for active shooter scenarios in Schenectady dates back to the 1999 Columbine shooting, Clifford said, when two students killed 12 classmates and a teacher at the Colorado high school.

Patrol officers undergo yearly training for active shooter situations, while the department’s Special Operations Squad — the equivalent of a SWAT Team — trains twice a year for large-scale active shooter operations. In the past, the department has simulated active shooters at Proctors,  he said.

Whenever a new building is constructed in the city, the Police Department and its tactical commanders take a walk-through of the property, making note of any potential problem areas, and which spaces are open to the public or secured, Clifford said.

At large scale events, specifically The Daily Gazette Holiday Parade and Schenectady County’s SummerNight on State Street, the department typically stations “observers” on high ground to monitor the area, Clifford said.

The observers are armed and able to engage if necessary, Clifford said, but are primarily there to keep watch. If a shooting or other incident took place, observers are trained to be able to pinpoint the likely source.

Before joining a municipal police force, police recruits go through six months of basic training at the Zone 5 Training Academy. Of the six months, a full week is spent on rapid deployment and active shooter response training, said Rocco Fragomeni, director of the academy and former police chief in North Greenbush. He estimated active shooter training has been a separate part of the curriculum since 2005.

That training is supplemented by exercises held by local departments, Fragomeni said. The Zone 5 Academy handles recruits from departments in Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Fulton, Montgomery, Washington and Rensselaer counties, as well as parts of Greene County and Albany County, minus the city of Albany.

The New York State Police declined to discuss specifics about its active shooter training, but classroom discussions and scenario-based training are part of academy curriculum, and are constantly evolving. Incumbent troopers receive additional active shooter training throughout the year as well, said Beau Duffy, a spokesman with the New York State Police.

“State police members and members of our Special Operations teams consistently train for active shooter situations, including scenarios that involve large public gatherings,” Duffy said in a released statement, adding that sessions are frequently conducted with other law enforcement agencies.

While local agencies differ in specific training exercises, each one has adapted its curriculum over the years with each mass shooting or other high profile incident.

“Current events always shape the way we train,” Fragomeni said. “We try to adapt that into the training so we put a better equipped recruit back out on the street.”

Just as the Columbine shooting prompted Schenectady police to conduct drills at the local high school, local agencies will study the response to Monday morning’s shooting to glean lessons and best practices, officials said.

“We say, 'How does this impact us and how can we learn from this,'” Clifford said.

That’s common practice with any national event, Clifford said. However, he and Fragomeni said Las Vegas presents policing challenges unlikely to manifest locally.

For example, while Mandalay Bay has more than 3,200 hotel rooms spread over more than 40 floors, complicating the search for the gunman. The largest of the three recently opened hotels in Schenectady has 165 rooms spread over six stories.

Given each jurisdiction is different, local agencies are likely to train differently based on specific concerns, Fragomeni said.

“I think, geographically, based on where you are, you train for those events that could happen on your soil,” he said.

For example, local emergency response teams began training almost 20 years ago for possible active shooter situations at Crossgates Mall, Fragomeni said. Those exercises were put into practice last November when shots were fired outside the Apple Store, and the mall was evacuated and searched over the course of several hours.

While state and local police are continually updating best practices for responding to an active shooter or other emergency situations, officials said it’s difficult to fully simulate reality.

“Everybody tries to train for the unexpected, but it’s hard,” Fragomeni said. “I don’t know how anybody could train for what happened [Monday] morning."

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