October 22, 2007


Local police prepare for school shootings


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland University police officer Paul Van Valkenburg on Sunday demostrates a stairway maneuver using protective gear and Airsoft weapons that was later used during training excercises at Moffett Center.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The team of police officers moved through the darkened hallways of SUNY Cortland’s Moffett Center, weapons at the ready as they cleared hallways and rooms, searching for their target.
For the past two Sundays, three local police agencies have worked together for joint training sessions at SUNY Cortland. The goal is to prepare every officer in the SUNY police, city police and the county Sheriff’s Department for the possibility that a campus shooting could happen locally.
Moffett Center on the college campus was closed off to allow for the training.
SUNY police Lt. Chauncey Bennett said that following the April Virginia Tech massacre, in which a student killed 32 people before committing suicide, the SUNY administration decided to require response plans from each college for a similar situation.
Bennett said annual training will take place.
City police officer Rob Reyngoudt, who is also the Cortland High School resource officer, or officer stationed at the school, said similar training would likely take place at an area high school in the spring.
The local departments had conducted various training scenarios by themselves, but Bennett said this is the first time the three agencies have worked together in this type of training.
Bennett and Capt. Glen Mauzy of the Sheriff’s Department stressed that dangerous situations require the cooperation of all local agencies.
“We have to know all the jobs, and that’s why we have to get together,” Bennett said just before midday Sunday as the officers ate lunch and prepared for their field exercise.
Beginning at 8 in the morning, the first task was classroom training. The officers studied detailed rundowns of historical campus shooting incidents and the appropriate responses.
In August, Bennett and Reyngoudt attended a National Tactical Defense Officers Association instructor course in Owego.
“We are going to invite patrol officers to use, in some instances, SWAT tactics,” Reyngoudt said of the training exercise Sunday.
Before the April 1999 Columbine, Colo., school shooting, Reyngoudt said that most departmental policy called for patrol officers to secure and control the area as they waited for police tactical teams, such as SWAT, to arrive.
But that just doesn’t work when someone with a gun is threatening school children.
“Most of these active shooter situations are over in 30 minutes,” Bennett said. “If the shooter is in a target-rich environment, we want to get officers to that shooter as fast as possible.”
Following the instruction, the officers — 22 went through and completed the training Oct. 14 and Sunday — began the drill, using their outstretched index fingers to substitute for a weapon at first.
Every person in the Moffett Center was frisked and searched to make sure they were not carrying a lethal weapon. Between 10 and 20 SUNY student volunteers stuck to a very exact script, “so that nobody improvises,” Reyngoudt said.
Special air guns, powered by gas canisters and looking for all the world like the real thing, were lined up in a table in an office, with helmets and body armor nearby.
Bennett described them as a “hyped-up version” of a pellet guns, except these are only issued for police and military training. They shoot small plastic beads.
During the training situations, the teams of officers — there were two scenarios going on in two areas of the building at a time — moved through the halls while fire alarms shrieked, victims screamed and havoc broke lose.
Every officer saw about three different scenarios of training on Sunday, SUNY police Lt. Eric Rabusin said.
The instructors followed the teams through the scenarios and critiqued individual officers on their communication, movements and techniques.
Barbara Gasperetti, a SUNY Cortland graduate student who has been a dispatcher for the campus police for four years, played the shooter.
“They just told me to cuss a lot, and pretend like I mean it,” Gasperetti said.
“We didn’t want an officer firing on an officer,” Reyngoudt said, because other officers know the tactics that their comrades would employ. “We didn’t want an officer coming up with a wacky scenario.”
Officers took the training seriously.
“I had three or four layers (of clothing) on last weekend,” Gasperetti said of the Oct. 14 training. “I only got shot in the arm once. The rest were headshots.”



Local schools wary of staph infection

From Staff and Wire Reports
CORTLAND — Several school districts around the state including at least two in Cortland County have sent notices home to families warning of the risk posed by an antibiotic-resistant strain of staph bacteria.
The Cortland School District has a banner scrolling across the district’s Web site at www.cortlandschools.o-rg referring to a letter about methicillin-resistant staph aureus, or MRSA, that was posted on the Web site Friday under recent news. It was also sent out by mail Friday; some children had the letter stuffed in their backpacks as well.
Homer posted a similar letter on its Web site Thursday. Neither school district has reported any cases of the infection.
“We don’t have any known cases of MRSA now,” said Larry Spring, superintendent of schools at Cortland. “It’s important to recognize this is not new.”
He said the district has been taking precautions, with things such as cleaning wrestling mats for a long time, but has also stepped up regular cleanings so that surfaces that might have been cleaned weekly with antimicrobial treatments are now cleaned daily or even two to three times a day such as door push plates and handles.
Spring said the district is stressing good hygiene with children and parents, including frequent hand washing throughout the day, and proper wound care — clean, treat and cover. He said athletes are asked not to share equipment, such as helmets.
“Luckily we’re not in a reactive mode now,” Spring said.
Mary Jane Uttech, deputy director of the Cortland County Health Department, said schools only need to report an infection if there is an outbreak, for example, a few cases from the same football team.
She said the infection is in Cortland County, usually contracted in the hospital, and MRSA patients are treated through the county’s home health agency.
Health officials say hand washing, cleaning surfaces, covering wounds and avoiding shared use of personal items are key to avoiding the spread of the bacteria.
In Bedford, Va., a high school student died after being hospitalized for more than a week with an MRSA strain of staph. But officials say fatal cases are rare, and normally it is a localized skin infection that can be treated with other drugs.
In the Southern Tier, a case of MRSA was confirmed in the Corning-Painted Post school district in a student at an elementary school Thursday. The district sent a letter home with all students Friday, detailing steps to limit the threat.
Staff reporter Ida M. Pease contributed to this article.


Iraq No. 1 issue on voters’ minds at Arcuri meeting

Staff Reporter

The war in Iraq was a key issue for many of the roughly 25 people who attended a question-and-answer session Saturday with Rep. Mike Arcuri.
Local residents also did not hesitate to bend their congressman’s ear on topics ranging from railroad service to subsidies for specialty crop growers.
“I thought it was a great, eclectic cross section of questions people were bringing up,” Cortland resident Ruth Grunberg said after the event, which was held at the Beard Building at 9 Main St. in Cortland. “You sort of wish these guys could have more time to talk with us because there’s so much going on with Congress right now.”
Arcuri (D-Utica) spoke for an hour and a half on a number of issues, but none was better received than his opposition to the war in Iraq.
“I have to disagree with the president when he says we’ll stand down when they stand up. I think they’ll stand up when we stand down,” Arcuri said to applause, recounting a trip he took to Iraq in August which caused him to question the efforts of the fledgling Iraqi government to achieve true political change.
Cortland resident Linda Esposito told Arcuri that her son-in-law, who is a psychologist in the Army Reserves, has been ordered to serve his third term in Iraq despite having already fulfilled his eight-year commitment to the Army.
Because, as a psychologist, her son-in-law had a specialty needed by the Army, he was retained through a “stop-loss order,” which Esposito said amounts to a back-door draft.
“As I understand it, there are tens of thousands of people who can’t leave right now because of these stop-loss orders … I think Congress needs to be aware of it,” Esposito said.
Arcuri was sympathetic, but said the military is already stretched thin, and he believed Congress would be reluctant to take any action to thin forces further.
He said the lack of political progress has been frustrating since his election to office in 2006, noting he had voted in favor of cutting funding for the war.
While Iraq dominated a large portion of the discussion, numerous other issues were brought up by the audience, such as the proposed law from Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) that would limit truck traffic on rural roads such as Routes 41 and 90, a measure Arcuri said he would support.
A number of audience members suggested New York push to provide more railroad transportation, and Arcuri agreed, noting the United States lags behind other developed nations in alternative forms of transportation.