SUNY New Paltz enhances campus security and active shooter preparedness

Photo courtesy of the New Paltz University Police
New Paltz campus police officers prepare for an active shooter situation in Wooster Hall last October. The UPD is now offering open classes to help students, faculty and staff to prepare for active shooters and other campus emergencies.

In response to the number of mass shootings happening nationwide, the SUNY New Paltz University Police Department is hosting open classes to educate students on active shooter safety and strengthen campus security.

While the SUNY New Paltz Police Department has offered a presentation on active shooter safety for years now, a new rendition of the class is taking the preparation a step further.

Active shooter training courses were initially developed after the tragic Virginia Tech shooting that left 33 dead and 23 injured in 2007. According to SUNY New Paltz UPD Chief David Dugatkin, the SUNY New Paltz class used to be offered upon the request of a professor or department. Now, the campus police department sees it as a priority for student safety, and are trying to offer the course campus-wide at least twice a semester.

Chief David Dugatkin

“No one came to us saying ‘we really need this,’” Dugatkin said. “We decided that we wanted to start doing these open, larger sessions.”

The class is meant to educate students on how to be proactive during a potential shooting: what to do, how to identify a potential shooter, how to hide, how to barricade yourself, how to interact with police and how to get in touch with the police. Students are urged to either run, hide or fight as last resort if trapped in the vicinity of an active shooter.

The course presented twice this semester was a one-hour informational powerpoint presentation where campus police officers answered questions and encouraged open discussion about active shooter safety once the class concluded.

The first public course, instructed by UPD Officer William Shaw, was hosted at night in a lecture hall on-campus with aproximately 25 people in attendance. Shaw serves as the representative for SUNY New Paltz on the Ulster County Emergency Services Unit, which operates in a similar manner to a S.W.A.T. team.

“Events like Parkland have put it back on everyone’s radar,” Dugatkin said, referring to the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Seventeen people were killed and 17 more were wounded when a former student activated a fire alarm and began shooting students, teachers and staff as they evacuated the buildings.

Classes are held by SUNY New Paltz university police officers while they are on duty so that it does not cost any additional money to run the classes. The campus police are content with  student participation in the courses, but note there is room for improvement.

Other SUNY schools like Plattsburgh, Cobleskill and Albany have been offering similar classes. Dugatkin explains that all SUNY police departments communicate with one another, but it is up to the discretion of each school just how often these courses should be held with or without request. There are no SUNY guidelines provided for these courses, but rather policing guidelines on how to prepare for an active shooter situation.

The websites of these schools offer very similar, if not the same information. They include the same guidelines urging students to run, hide or fight until law enforcement arrives. These guidelines are available for anyone to read along with school-produced videos similar to the SUNY New Paltz Police Department’s “Crisis on Campus” video.

Schools like SUNY Cortland have gone as far as offering “webinars” and on-campus Active Shooter Awareness courses in 2015.

During these classes, UPD unveiled new security equipment that is being installed on campus.

“There’s always new technology that’s being upgraded and added on campus,” Dugatkin said.

The campus is currently developing a central lockdown button in the university police building which gives the department the ability to lock all electronic doors on campus. Dugatkin noted that the system was recently installed in a few buildings on campus.

Whenever a building is renovated or built, a mass notification speaker system is installed throughout the building which the police tested over a simulated shooter situation back in October in Wooster Hall.

New York State Education Law requires that every college in New York have an emergency mass notification speaker system on school grounds, but other safety measures are decided by the schools and their respective police departments.

“Everything else is up to the individual colleges. I’d say all the  SUNY’s are working on all these different projects,” Dugatkin said.

The SUNY New Paltz University Police Department has recently became an accredited police department by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, declaring that the department’s performance has met the highest standards of the state.

The second Active Shooter Awareness Training course was held on the SUNY New Paltz campus on April 24 at 1:00 pm.