State Parks Police lead active shooter drills at SPAC

Legislative Gazette photos by Gabbie Albrecht

On a recent Tuesday morning inside the beloved Saratoga Performing Arts Center, two police officers stand ready at the top of a service road, surrounded by tall pines, fully dressed in bullet proof vests and face masks over their eyes. A slight breeze moves through the trees as a radio breaks the silence with an alert that a suspect in a black hoodie has been spotted with a live weapon inside the venue.

The officers unholster their blue taped trainer weapons as they make their way down the hill and up the stairs, past the loading dock behind the stage. They cautiously enter the building, one after the other.

Saratoga Performing Arts Center, known to locals as SPAC, is a hub for summer concerts located in Saratoga State Park. Recently however, SPAC was not its usual entertainment destination, but a training ground for concert security.

A week-long active shooter drill took place at the concert venue to prepare law enforcement for any potential threats involving active shooters. On Tuesday, April 10, reporters were invited to watch the drill take place at the popular venue.

Lt. Shane Crooks of the Saratoga Police Department and Lt. Donald Benware of the New York State Parks Police helped lead the drills. Along with the Saratoga Police Department and the New York State Parks Police, members of the New York State Police and the Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office also participated in the active shooter simulations.

Benware explained that having multiple agencies training together, in high-intensity situations, provides a sense of familiarity between the agencies.

Active shooter training scenarios are designed to mirror mass-shooting incidents that have happened across the country. Events like the Las Vegas shooting last year make the SPAC drill a relevant training ground for active shooter drills.

“This is our reality-based, force-on-force training,” Crooks said. “We are training where an incident could occur.”

Both Crooks and Benware stress that this type of training among law enforcement agencies helps them work together better, regardless of which department or officer is on the scene.

“It may be a sergeant and a lieutenant and the sergeant has a higher level of training and has more confidence,” Benware said. “They may take the lead and everybody picks up on the mission to stop the killing.”

Due to the intense nature of an actual event, they plan high adrenaline drills to put the officers through so that they are prepared to think clearly during and after a shooting event. Once the officers have been called to go in, they are told to do what they have they have been trained to do.

The two officers who entered the building kept their weapons in front as they entered a long hallway with rooms on either side. As the lead officer entered the first room to clear it, the second officer watched the hallway.

They repeated this action of clearing each room as they moved down the hallway. As they exited a room further down the hall, a tall figure with a black hoodie jumped out of a room and fired at the officers. For a split second, there was only the sound of popping as the officers and the shooter exchanged rounds.

Just as quickly as the popping sounds came, they went silent as the shooter fell to the ground. The officers slowly made their way closer to the shooter as they eyed the room he came out of. Once everything seemed okay, one officer knelt down by the shooter to check his pulse while he called for an ambulance. The observing officer signaled the simulation to end.

“This is our jurisdiction and this is our home,”  Benware said. “This is our responsibility.”