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SLO County college officers on how they would respond to shooting

At Cal Poly and Cuesta College, local police officers say they would immediately try to take out the shooter in a situation similar to Monday’s Virginia Tech incident - instead of securing the area and waiting for a Special Weapons and Tactics team to arrive.

They have uniformly initiated that strategy since the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., which left 15 people dead, including the two shooters.

Officers in every law enforcement agency in the county, including sworn officers in the police departments at Cal Poly and Cuesta, now receive “active shooter” training together each summer.

“The first couple of officers to respond on the scene would team up and plan a response right then and there to limit the body count,” said Cal Poly’s police chief, Bill Watton. “That would happen whatever agency they come from, because we train together.”

None of the local police officials contacted were willing to second guess what happened at Virginia Tech, a campus where the body count had reached 33, including the shooter, by late Monday.

Even so, local police officials predicted Monday that they will possibly see more changes in how they train for mass shooting incidents in light of Monday’s massacre.

“One thing I can guarantee based on how these things happen is law enforcement, the universities and local colleges across the country will critique this thing like crazy,” said Capt. Dan Blanke, spokesman for the San Luis Obispo Police Department.

What to do in cases of college emergencies has heavy resonance in San Luis Obispo County because there are more than 30,000 college students at Cuesta and Cal Poly combined.

In emergencies, Watton said university officials can send an e-mail to every student, and it has a loudspeaker system that can reach most areas. For other areas, he would send out officers with bullhorns.

Cuesta Chief Pete Sysak said that at the community college there are designated building-safety managers that would be in charge of securing individual buildings. And there is a public-address system. Because Cuesta is a commuter campus, the e-mail system might not be as effective, he said.

“There will be those times, and this may be one, where you don¹t know the guy is going to do something until the second it starts,” Watton said.

But he worries that students could fret too much over something that happened across the country.

“But never let these kinds of incidents make you a shut-in or a recluse,” he said. “People still need to go out and do what they are going to do.”

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