Jul 28, 2014

Orangetown Police: Heightened Alert After Connecticut Shootings

Orangetown Police checked in with local schools and went to a heightened alert after the the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT Friday.

Orangetown Police: Heightened Alert After Connecticut Shootings Orangetown Police: Heightened Alert After Connecticut Shootings

Orangetown Police went into a heightened alert status when word came in last Friday about the . 

Concerns at first were that there could be more attacks and many schools are reviewing security measures as Pearl River did Monday. 

"As you can imagine, Friday we were on heightened alert because of this," Orangetown Police Chief Kevin Nulty said. "As things unfolded, it became clear that it was a local issue there, not an organized group doing this.

"(Monday) Joe Sullivan was in touch with all of the schools, asking if they want to go over protocols with them. We offered any assistance we can."

Orangetown is not the only local police department paying closer attention to school security this week.

"We have increased patrols and we're looking at everything." Piermont Police Chief Michael O'Shea said. "We always review our response plan. Nothing is more important than our children. That is our top priority, to make children safe."

Orangetown Police have dealt with issues with guns in local schools in recent years. In 2009, parent Peter Cocker of Tappan confronted South Orangetown Central School District Superintendent Dr. Ken Mitchell in his office at South Orangetown Middle School. Mitchell was able to disarm Cocker, whose gun was not loaded. Cocker was sentenced to five years in prison.

In 2010, a 14-year-old student waved what turned out to be a pellet gun at teachers inside South Orangetown Middle School, and then tried to carjack passing motorists before being arrested by Orangetown Police.

Nulty said the greater influence on department policy was the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999.

"The learning process started before that," Nulty said. "When Columbine took place, one criticism of that incident was that police waited for SWAT units to come in and get there to neutralize the suspects. 

"Now there is an active shooter philosophy. Police respond and neutralize the threat almost immediately once they make their initial assessment. We train officers to do that. At South Orangetown (in 2009), officers didn't wait outside. They went right where the threat was. Luckily, in that case, no actual violence took place."

Columbine that led to placing police officers in school buildings, something federal grants helped to pay for at first, but that is no longer the case for budgetary reasons. 

Nulty said schools have to be conscious of entry points in their buildings, which can be an issue with many of them designed for easy access rather than with security in mind. As a safety measure, the Pearl River School District announced it is keeping the main doors in to its elementary schools and middle school locked at least for the remainder of this week. 

"There are a lot of ways to get in places," Nulty said. "When it comes to crime prevention, you think of ability, opportunity and desire (to commit a crime). The only thing you can knock out sometimes is opportunity. The way you knock it out is you secure all doors except one in the school. Don't make it easy for the person to enter the school. Unfortunately, if it is someone familiar in the school, people let them in."

In addition to plans of action for an incident within any of the schools, there are also codes in place if a crime happens nearby to help keep them secure. That can range from a lockdown to simply keeping students inside the buildings even at lunch or recess. 

"If there is a bank robbery, they lock the schools down," Nulty said as an example. "If we notify BOCES, they will call the schools and lock them down."

Police officers train at least once a year on how to handle a situation with an active shooter. 

"We teach them how to go in as a team or go in as two guys," Nulty said. "Now, you go in if you hear shots. You go in yourself if you have to."

Ultimately, schools have control over their buildings. 

"What you see us do is be in touch with the schools," Nulty said. "Ultimately, it's their job to put in policies to keep the schools safe. The police are there to consult and respond if they need help. 

"Across America, this has to be looked at. It's happening too frequently."

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