By Brielle Bryan
Police cars lined up outside of Forcina Hall as officers raised their weapons, entering the building with steady hands and skilled caution.
While students retreated into their homes, eager to relax over winter break, Campus Police took advantage of a relatively empty campus to educate its officers with its annual Law Enforcement Active Shooter Emergency Response course.
Campus Police also invited officers from the Ewing Township Police Department and New Jersey Department of Human Services Police to the four active shooter training sessions held on Jan. 6, 7, 13 and 14.
There were 16 officers from Ewing Township, 12 officers from Human Services Police and 16 Campus Police officers attending the training, according to Campus Police Lt. James Lopez.
Last year, the training was held in Bliss Hall and Campus Police did not involve other police departments.
“We will never know, if this type of incident occurs, where it will occur,” said Campus Police Sgt. Scott Leusner. “Changing the environment keeps the training fresh for our officers who have been receiving the training yearly, and also changes the scenarios due to the different layouts of the buildings.”
The active shooter training evolves every time a mass shooting takes place. In 2016, there was a mass shooting in Pulse Nightclub, located in Orlando, Florida. The tragedy served as a lesson for officers and medics in training.
“Police learn better tactics,” Lopez said. “Years ago, the mindset was you wait for SWAT. It’s changed 180 degrees where it’s the first person on the scene’s job to go in and stop the shooter by whatever means possible. One of the things they found in Pulse Nightclub is that the majority of people died because they bled out in the bathroom because nobody could get to them.”
In the past, EMTs were not allowed in a building unless the active shooter was apprehended. There is a current nationwide initiative to incorporate EMTs into active shooter training so they can help the injured in a building that might not be 100 percent cleared to avoid additional casualties.
“If you train like this with everybody in the county, when an incident like this happens everybody will already have an idea of who they’re working with and know the basics of what we need to do and how we need to set up,” Lopez said.
There was one incident of a reported active shooter at the College about 10 years ago, but the situation turned out to be a hoax.
Lt. David LeBaw of the Ewing Township Police Department said that back when he was a patrolman, he was called in to help Campus Police with an active shooter situation. The active shooter was said to be on the seventh floor of Wolfe Hall, and was reported to have shot someone in a bathroom.
“We made our way up to the sixth and eighth floor and converged onto the seventh –– it was nothing,” LeBaw said. “We cleared room-to-room, trying to figure out what was going on, and it turned out to be a jilted ex-boyfriend who I guess was trying to get back at his girlfriend.”
LeBaw stressed that nothing is routine or expected, and an officer must be prepared for any scenario.
“It comes down to determination, no matter how you look at it,” Patrolman Matt Przemieniecki of Ewing Township Police Department said. “If you’re not determined to complete your mission, if you’re not determined to win, if you’re not determined to save lives, if you’re not determined to end an active shooter, then what do you have?”
Lopez explained that all of the four training sessions had the same structure, and officers from each participating agency worked together in each session.
“We break it down into individual components, teach those components and then put it together in a scenario,” Lopez said.
The training session began with a PowerPoint presentation issued by the federal government, which broke down step-by-step how officers should enter a building with an active shooter.
The training teaches police officers how to approach stairs and doorways, how to “slice the pie” and enter a room.
“Slicing the pie” is a tactic used when clearing a hallway. The officer will strategically approach the corner of the hallway so that they can’t be seen if a dangerous person is standing on the other side of the corner.
Przemieniecki emphasized how the right mindset will get an officer through a tough situation.
“You’re exercising your mind,” Przemieniecki said. “If a car pulls up and a driver gets out and starts shooting at me, what am I going to do? If you already exercised up and down this road before, you’re going to act as if you already thought about it.”
LeBaw told the officers that they should play the “what if” game, where they constantly think of different scenarios that could arise.
Officers who had experienced the training before felt that the program offered new and valuable information each time.
“Every year you hone your abilities,” said Campus Police Sgt. Matthew Mastrosimone. “You’re able to accomplish the goal quicker and it’s great just to get out and practice.”
After demonstrating how each tactic is executed, the officers acted out live simulations where they put what they learned about clearing a building and taking down an active shooter into action. While one officer played the role of an active shooter, student volunteers from TCNJ EMS and the fraternity Delta Tau Delta played the roles of victims and hostages.
During the live simulations, all of the students and officers were required to wear protective gear. The guns used in the training contained Simunition, a non-lethal ammunition, that left behind a water-soluble, red compound.
“Your objective is to stop the shooter,” Lopez said to the trainees. “Secure the person. Secure the weapon.”
Dillon Hayes, a sophomore mechanical engineering major and brother of Delta Tau Delta, played the role of the person who calls police to report an active shooter.
“You get to see it from the active shooter and law enforcement perspective,” Hayes said. “It’s kind of cool to see how much planning and how much training there is for what could be all of 30 seconds.”
Hayes also had the chance to run down hallways, serving as an obstacle that the officers had to account for.
“It shows you how to respond to the situation, and how to cooperate with police so that you’re not accidentally put into the mix,” Hayes said.
This experience not only taught students about what to do when faced with a situation where there is an active shooter, but also helped develop their relationships with the different police agencies.
“I think college students are kind of afraid of police, and this is just a great way to kind of get to know some of the officers, and just build a better connection to the campus’ police force,” said Luke Kearney, a junior history major and brother of Delta Tau Delta.
Lopez advised students to handle the active shooter situation in three ways — run, hide and fight.
“Run away from the situation if you can get away safely,” Lopez said. “If you can’t escape, find a place to hide, and secure yourself in a room — lock the door. If everything else fails and you are faced with someone who wants to end your life, fight for your life.”
This was the first active shooter training session for some new officers, including patrolman Ricardo Sookhu for the Ewing Township Police Department, who said he learned much from the experience.
“This is as close as we’re going to get to the real thing,” said Sookhu. “Here’s our chance to make our mistakes.”
Campus Police Security Officer Nick O’Brien also had never completed active shooter training before.
“It’s not something you would ever expect to happen to you in your life,” O’Brien said. “Being in a live simulation teaches you to respond correctly with the proper training, and give yourself a better chance of survival.”
The officers and student volunteers learned that when facing an active shooter, the scenario will never go as planned. The only way to make it through such a deadly situation is to keep a determined mindset and be prepared for any possible scenario.