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Columbine changed how local police respond to school shootings

6:17 PM, Dec 14, 2012   |    comments
"Sign on a lawn in Newtown, CT," via @AndreaMcCarren on Twitter
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Local police departments have changed the way they respond to school shootings since the Columbine killings in 1999, Orangetown Police Chief Kevin Nulty said Friday.

Officers are now trained to enter school buildings during an active shooting, instead of waiting for a SWAT team to arrive, he said.

"It's a philosophy that has materialized since Columbine," Nulty said.

Orangetown police utilized that method, Nulty said, in 2009 when a middle school parent held South Orangetown Superintendent Kenneth Mitchell at gunpoint. Peter Cocker, upset about the district's policy on swine-flu notification, confronted Mitchell in his office, located in the district's middle school, threatening to shoot Mitchell through the heart. Mitchell, a former college hockey player, rushed the attacker and disarmed him as police shot the hinges off the locked door.

Nulty said a "react team" conducts threat assessments of schools that include understanding layouts of buildings.

Even so, everything in law enforcement is a "work in progress," he said, and tragic events such as the Newtown, Conn., shootings are opportunities to re-evaluate safety measures.

"This incident will be greatly scrutinized by the FBI, by law enforcement to see what could have been done differently," Nulty said.

South Nyack-Grandview Police Chief Robert Van Cura said his department has always worked closely with the Nyack school district and that all schools have security procedures, their doors are locked and visitors are let in by a security guard.

The elementary schools in Nyack, he said, do not have school resource officers.

"Elementary schools are not typically where you experience these types of shooting incidents," Van Cura said. "We evaluate school procedures with the district when something like this happens and adjust our procedures if we can do something better or faster."

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