Monday’s tragedy at Virginia Tech left an abundance of questions but few answers. While most of the questions centered on the identity of the perpetrator(s) and victims, some brought under scrutiny the conduct of university police. Reporters dissected their tactics and failure to place the campus under lockdown after the first series of shootings in a series of press conferences.
Conversely, the preparedness of numerous universities across the country will face similar scrutiny.
Cal Poly is a similar environment to Blacksburg, a polytechnic university in a small town, where the students represent a sizeable portion of the town’s population.
Like Virginia Tech, Cal Poly has its own police department. University Police Department Chief Bill Watton took time Monday night to describe the preparedness of Cal Poly in a similar situation.
Watton continually stressed that each procedure and reaction would depend on the scope of the situation and those involved. For example, if a homicide occurred in the dorms, Watton said the first step would be to identify if the shooting was a domestic incident or a massacre situation and go on from there.
“If there was a shooting in the dorms, we would first determine the situation; if it were a similar situation (like Virginia Tech) our response would be extensive.” he said. Watton said locking down the dorms could be an option if it were determined that was the safest course of action. Again, Watton said that the various responses depend on the situation at hand, but declined to describe the specifics of the lockdown procedure. Watton would only describe it as “an agreement between (the department of) Housing and University Police.”
According to Watton, university police would also rely on mutual assistance from various other agencies in the county including San Luis Obispo Police Department, California Highway Patrol and various other agencies.
“We have a good record of mutual assistance between us and other agencies; we would end up working with various organizations, possibly even those from Santa Barbara County,” Watton said.
One of the reported flaws in Blacksburg was the inability of law enforcement and administration to communicate with students and faculty after the first shooting. Many received e-mails vaguely describing the first shooting while the second incident was taking place.
Although Watton was hesitant to second guess Virginia Tech’s response, due to the lack of information, he detailed the plan to communicate with those on campus should the need arise.
“Generically speaking, it wouldn’t just be e-mails, we would use the radio station (1610 AM) and officers in cars with bullhorns if need be, the word would get out,” Watton said.
Various others criticized the lack of an immediate tactical response by those on the scene. Whether this was due to the reported use of locks on the entries to the building is unknown at this time.
However, some commentators insinuated that the officers’ lack of tactical training in an “active shooter situation” was cause for the delay in action. An active shooter situation is described by law enforcement as an armed person who has used deadly force on others and continues to do so with unrestricted access to additional victims. The 1999 Columbine shootings is a primary example of an active shooter situation. Watton believes this delay would not be an issue at Cal Poly.
“All police officers in this county are trained in active shooter situations, it’s a small county so we may not have time to wait for SWAT to arrive. We train annually for that situation, we would be able to deploy and engage rapidly.” Watton said.
In addition, he said university police officers are equipped with M4A1 semi-automatic rifles in addition to sidearms, to confront deadlier, well-armed threats. The rifles are kept in police cruisers and fire the .223 caliber round, the same high-velocity round used in the M-16.
Watton also said that officers have access to department issue body armor, as well as “other options” after that.