Bergen County Police Chiefs Respond to Colorado Theater Massacre
The Aurora theater shooting put law enforcement everywhere on alert; heightened security at Bergen County movie theaters.
North Jersey law enforcement authorities said Friday they stand in solidarity with the officers who responded to the Colorado movie theater massacre that left 12 people dead and 58 wounded during a screening of the latest Batman sequel.
New Milford Police Chief Frank Papapietro, who also serves as the Mutual Aid Chairman of the Bergen County Rapid Deployment Force (RDF), said that every police chief in the country is putting themselves in the shoes of Aurora Police Chief Daniel Oates.
"This could be any one of us," Papapietro said. "Any police chief in America could be facing what he's facing right now."
Cliffside Park Police Chief Donald Keane, who also serves as 1st Vice President of the Bergen County Police Chiefs Association, said the shooting prompted him to look at his own department.
"My first thought was how horribly sad it was. My second thought was to ask myself if my department was prepared for an event like this,” he said. "You always want to be as prepared as you can be."
The events of September 11th may have taken law enforcement global, but the Columbine shootings in 1999 changed the way local police departments prepared for, and responded to, a local crisis.
"Except for September 11th, all the worst acts of terrorism have been committed by one of our own," Papapietro said.
"In law enforcement we always have one eye on foreign terrorism, and the other eye focused on that local guy who's the lone wolf," Papapietro said. "In most cases, that's the guy you really have to worry about."
Law enforcement has had to adapt to ever-changing situations and shifting priorities, but “Columbine changed police tactical training and shifted first responder responsibility from the county SWAT team to local police departments,” Keane said.
Before Columbine, protocol in a crisis situation was for local police to secure an area while waiting for the county SWAT team.
"After Columbine local police departments were initiating their own Active Shooter Training," Keane said.
Active Shooter Training shifts the responsibility of first response in a shooter situation, as in Aurora, to the local police department.
"After Columbine, a parent of one of the victims said that they were upset that the local cops didn't get into the school fast enough," Keane reflected.
Keane said that interview "really struck a nerve" and compelled him to focus on providing Active Shooter Training for his department.
Papapietro said if any town in Bergen County was faced with an active shooter—whether it was in a movie theater, school, or other venue—local police would respond to the scene first, followed by mutual aid assistance from other towns and the County Police, RDF and then the county SWAT team.
But the most effective defense in an active shooter situation is multi-jurisdictional training. "What the public needs to understand is that behind the scenes, law enforcement is constantly training and preparing for crisis situations," Papapietro said.
"Standardized training creates a unity of purpose," Papapietro said. "No matter what the scenario, everyone knows how to execute their role."
A field agent for the FBI who asked not to be identified confirmed that training among all jurisdictions is essential in preparing for a crisis.
"Communication is the key to all of this training," he said. "Everyone needs to know their roles and their responsibilities."
Papapietro said that in an active shooter situation, the guiding questions are: Is the shooter alone? Are there others with the shooter who have disappeared into the crowd? Have the other gunmen escaped? Is this a ploy to get all first responders together and target them?
"The goal is to isolate, and if necessary, neutralize the shooter," Papapietro said. "But unless an officer is faced with a threat of death, you take the shooter alive."
Officials said that law enforcement is securing all Bergen County movie theater complexes, but would not go into further detail.
Keane said that he reached out to the Edgewater Police Department to offer his department's help in securing the multiplex movie theater on River Road.
"No one can ever be prepared for a disaster like Aurora," Keane said. "But we do everything we can do to train and prepare. We do everything we can to think forward."
"The bottom line is this. We have to be more prepared tomorrow than we were yesterday," Keane concluded.