CLIFTON PARK — Just days after a gunman in Texas killed 26 people, Saratoga County residents from Clifton Park to Corinth gathered to learn from law enforcement how to survive an active shooter situation.
Deputy Kenneth Cooper Jr. of the Saratoga County Sheriff's Office joined more than 80 people in the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library Monday night to teach them about how to best escape from, or in the worst-care scenario fight through, a situation in which an assailant enters anywhere, be it an office, school or movie theater.
A year and a half ago, library employees went through the same training. The response, said Jim Foster, the library's assistant director, was so significant that the library decided to host the training for the general public. Cooper has trained more than 10,000 people in the county to handle shooting situations, from office workers to teachers. During his presentation, Cooper noted that shootings now happen at least every three weeks, and that people have become accustomed to turning on the news to learn about a shooting, then proceeding with their day.
"We've become immune to it," he said.
According to Cooper, 98 percent of mass shooters are male. Seventy percent of the time, the shooters ultimately commit suicide. But, he added, the shootings are almost always planned, therefore civilians should always be aware of their surroundings. Shooting victims are not usually personally chosen, he added, noting that shooters are often looking for the easiest targets.
Police officers, Cooper said, have tools to break down doors, keys to local schools and maps noting possible entry points in case of active shooting situations, but civilians should always take time to locate exits in the buildings they are in.
As police have undergone more training, response time to shooting situations has become much quicker. The average police response time is three minutes, Cooper said. Police would get to the library in less than a minute, he added.
He also went through the main tactics in dealing with an active shooting situation: run, hide and finally, fight.
Running away should be the first priority during an active shooter situation, Cooper said. He urged people to get out if they can, and to get as far away from the location as possible, whether that's running into nearby woods, driving away or taking cover behind structures that will stop bullets such as brick walls or trees. People who are trying to escape, he said, should not move in large groups. And if someone can't be convinced to run, he said, they have to be left behind.
Hiding is the next-best option, Cooper explained. If escape isn't an option, people should try to take shelter in an area away from the sight of the shooter. People should try to lock doors if they can, but if that's not an option, he said, a barricade with a heavy object can work. Under no circumstances, Cooper added, should people open the door for anyone once they've barricaded themselves in an area.
And sometimes, when running and hiding doesn't work, people might have to take matters into their own hands. When they enter into a building after a mass shooting, the main priority of first responders is to take out the shooter, not help people who are wounded.
"Don't be a victim," Cooper said. "That fighting part can come up quick. Yes, you're scared. But end it."
After receiving audience questions regarding civilians who carry guns and manage to stop shooters using those guns, Cooper emphasized the need to put all weapons down when police enter the building.
"We don't know who the bad guy is and we don't know who the good guy is," he added.
Cooper noted that the audience Monday night was the biggest he's had for one of his training sessions. People may have been spurred to come as a result of the weekend's shooting in Texas, he said, but it shouldn't take a catastrophe to want to be prepared. The Saratoga Race Course, as well as the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, are places he considers targets for active shooters.
"If we think this is never going to happen, we need to get out of that mindset," he said. "There's going to be another one."
Cooper will be holding an active shooter drill on the afternoon of Nov. 8 in the library around 1:30 p.m. An announcement will be made prior to the drill notifying people to leave if they don't wish to participate. As soon as the drill starts, however, anyone in the library has to take part. During the drill, library-goers will be asked to respond to an active shooter situation by either fleeing or hiding. Afterward, police officers will ask participants questions about their actions to determine whether or not they passed.