Training, familiarization ready police and schools for active shooter event

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After the Newtown shooting in 2012, the Cranston Police Department began doing active shooter training in the city’s schools to be prepared for school shootings.

In the wake of the Majory Stoneman Douglass High School shooting in Parkland, Fla. last week, Superintendent Jeannine Nota, Deputy Police Chief Todd Patalano and Police Chief Michael Winquist expressed how important it was to be ready for this type of situation – and how schools are being prepared to do so.

“Sadly, we as educators, parents, students and staff members need to always be prepared for events such as the ones at Columbine, Newtown, Parkland and the many others that have occurred,” Superintendent Nota wrote in an email. “While we educate and inform our community about how to react in our schools, the reality is you have to prepared at all times.”

Patalano said that the police department does ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) training with every student and faculty member in Cranston schools each year. He said that this national program provides a new type of training on what to do or not to do when an active shooter enters a building.

“Recently, the protocol for an active shooter is to get out instead of hunkering down,” he said. “Get away. If you’re encountering the subject, it’s not just sit there and be a victim. Do something, fight back.”

He said that fighting back, however possible, is the new way to combat active shooters, rather than being a helpless victim and not doing anything to stop the shooter. It’s most important to get away and get out safely, he said, but if a subject is encountered then the victim must fight back however necessary.

Nota said that the training they have done in recent years has become a successful part of safety training for staff and students.

“The officers who conduct the training are skilled and well suited for working with children,” she said. “They deliver a serious message in a way students understand without being terrified.”

For police officers, Patalano said that they are trained by personnel from their Special Response Team (SRT) and instructors in the ALICE program on how to go into a school during a shooter situation, how to clear the building, and how to remove the threat.

He also said that all of the police department’s officers and vehicles have done AR-15 training to prepare for when a shooter has an automatic weapon, like the one used in the shooting in Parkland, and they also have AR-15s available to use themselves.

Chief Winquist said that all officers are now equipped with patrol rifles, shields, and other equipment that could be utilized in an active shooter situation.

“We’re both well-equipped and well-trained for any type of active shooter situation that could occur in our society,” he said.

Also aiding the department is access to cameras in both Cranston West and Cranston East that they can monitor at any time. Although they don’t have cameras in any other schools, Patalano said that every officer has the ability to get into all the city’s school buildings at any time of the day with key FAABs they all carry.

He said that for an officer to best be ready to respond to a shooter situation they must be familiarized with all the school buildings.

“It’s familiarization,” he said. “This way, everybody’s familiar with the schools. It’s good to know the layout, exits, entrance, corridors, tight stairwells, whatever else you’re going to encounter in the building.”

He added that this goes for all the public or commercial buildings in the city, not just schools.

Patalano also said that in recent years the Cranston Police Department has been increasing the minimum complement of officers that are out on the road at a time. He said there are more officers available now than in recent years to be ready to respond to any situation that arises.

Winquist also talked about understanding the different types of “indicators” that could be there to detect a potential shooter. He said they investigate indicators, such as comments made on social media, on a daily basis and “in a thorough manner.”

Superintendent Nora said that the schools are in constant communication with law enforcement, both at a city and state level, to assess “how to change and evolve in response” to these situations.

She also said that the school department assesses their facilities for security concerns on a regular basis. She pointed out that when the schools were built decades ago, these “atrocities” weren’t on the mind of the builders, but protocols must now be put into place to ensure that students and staff are safe in the buildings they go to every day.

Speaking about preparedness for these situations, Major Patalano said, “Obviously, we hope this never occurs. But it’s something we have to always be prepared for.”

Chief Winquist added, “We do these things to prevent and minimize such a tragedy like the one in Florida.”

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