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Police Sergeant presents December active shooter report to CPCS

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COLTON - December’s active shooter drill at Colton-Pierrepont Central School was meant to get faculty, staff, and law enforcement officials prepared for the possibility of a “rare occurrence, high consequence” event, and that’s just what happened, according to state police Sgt. Chad Niles.

Nearly two months after the Dec. 20 activity, Mr. Niles presented the CPCS Board of Education his report on the exercise this week, offering praise, suggestions and constructive criticism.

“As far as the exercise went, there were some artificialities that we kind of expected in the exercise because everybody involved knew it was going to be an active shooter (drill.) So really what we expected in that case was all of the law enforcement officers responding and everybody in the school knew it was going to be an active shooter incident, so your reactions are probably going to be a lot quicker in that then it would be in a real life situation,” Mr. Niles said.

“The other thing, with the staff participating, we didn’t have enough people to be able to populate all the rooms in the school that we would have liked to, to make it as realistic as it could have been. But we did the best with what we had.”

The mid to late December drill took place shortly after the entire student body was dismissed early for winter vacation, and only included faculty and staff.

The activity took place from noon to 3 p.m. and was led by the New York State Police.

Mr. Niles noted the importance of school officials during a real active shooting, pointing out that law enforcement can only arrive at the school so quickly.

“ ... the real true first responders to this situation are the school staff. They’re going to have to be able to deal with the situation until the police arrive and many times it’s going to be over before the police arrive,” he said.

“So in this case, sometimes it may be a considered response action to take steps to stop the shooter. So the reason the superintendent got (fake) killed is because he armed himself with a baseball bat and could have likely, probably would have taken out one of the assailants in the exercise, judging by the surprise on (the gunmen’s) face.

“It’s personally recommended. It’s certainly a great personal risk, but it’s certainly a choice that needs to be considered sometimes because it’s going to potentially be a very long response for a police officer to arrive here at the school.”

Before the procedure began, staff gathered in the cafeteria to find out their roles in the drill. Some would act as teachers, others as students.

Law enforcement group members were assigned to be role-playing gunmen, as police teams scurried throughout the building, trying to locate the perpetrators in a safe, efficient way.

“(In active shooter drills) the bad guys either have starter pistols with blanks or rifles with blanks. There are two purposes for that. The law enforcement officers have to follow the sounds of the gun shots. That’s how we track down the bad guys. It’s a key element to our tactical response,” Mr. Niles said.

“The other thing is, I want teachers and staff to be able to recognize the sounds of a shot. There are a lot of folks that have never been exposed to firearms and in a lot of cases there may not be the chance to initiate a lock down announcement over the PA because maybe the office is under attack. So they need to recognize the sound and take steps to take proper actions based on the sound.”

Mr. Niles said that during the drill, the first gunman was taken into custody by a contact team within 13 minutes of the team’s entry into the building. This was about 16 minutes after the first shots were fired in the building. The second perpetrator was shot and wounded by a combination of two contact teams in the library 10 minutes later.

On the whole, both he and CPCS Superintendent Joseph A. Kardash were pleased with how the procedure ran.

“Overall, the session seemed very positive. I think there was certainly a level of staff anxiety before the exercise happened that I think was somewhat alleviated after the exercise. A lot of the staff afterwards said that this was good that we did this and I think it helped us feel a little bit more prepared,” Mr. Niles said.

“I am glad that we participated and made it very realistic and made it a great training exercise, at least for us. I think it shows a lot of commitment to school safety and security here by the staff and the administration here at the school.”

“On behalf of the board and the staff, we would like to thank you and all of the organizations involved for coming and teaching us more about what we can do to be safe,” Mr. Kardash added.

“When we first started hearing about this, your name came up and Sergeant Niles was described to me as the most knowledgeable person in the state about these particular circumstances. In all of our dealings with him, I have no doubt that that was a true statement. It’s been a pleasure and we certainly feel safer and more prepared.”

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