Active shooter: What to do if it happens here


By Jim Poole

The chances of a shooting in a Cobleskill business are infinitesimal, almost down to zero.
But Cobleskill Police want merchants and the public to be prepared, just in case.
Police Chief Rich Bialkowski and Lieutenant Jeff Brown outlined precautions and how to respond in cases of workplace violence, or much worse, a rampage by an active shooter.
Cobleskill Area Merchants, a committee of Cobleskill Partnership Inc., hosted the session, held last Monday at the town court. Nearly 20 attended.
Although in-store violence might be rare in Schoharie County, nearby incidents--such as the fight at Crossgates this past holiday season--have happened.
"That really kicked it off for me," Stephanie Livingston, who chairs CAM, said of the Crossgates fight. "A lot of people I know were there.
"I was on the phone to Rich right away."
Aware of the increase in violence, Chief Bialkowski was receptive in reaching out to merchants.
"You can't pick up a paper or watch TV without seeing something about a shooting," he said.
"Cobleskill's a small town. We used to say it would never happen here, but you can't say that any more. We can't prevent a shooting, but we can prepare for it."
Three words summarize a response to an active shooter, Lt. Brown said: "Run, hide, fight."
"If you can't escape, lock yourself in a room until you're cleared by police," he added.
Failing that, "Do whatever you can to survive," Lt. Brown said.
He pointed to objects in the courtroom--heavy books, chairs--that someone could use to defend himself.
"If someone is trying to take your life, use any means at your disposal," Lt. Brown said.
People facing a shooter also face a difficult choice--whether to help those already shot or save themselves.
"You have to make that moral decision," Chief Bialkowski said.
Response to an active shooter will come from all law enforcement agencies, not just Cobleskill, Chief Bialkowski said.
Nonetheless, the Cobleskill PD has a four-person contact team with shields and rifles.
"This is going to look scary and ugly," Chief Bialkowski said.
Officers will want information, such as where the shooter might be and whether there's more than one.
Intent on stopping the shooter, police won't stop to help the injured. But as soon as the shooter is stopped, all focus turns to care for the injured.
After a shooting incident, the investigation may take days, forcing the business to remain closed.
"If something like this happens, reopening your business may be your last consideration," Lt. Brown said.
Workplace violence may be less dangerous than an active shooter, but it's also likely to be more common.
Lt. Brown defined workplace violence as "any physical assault or verbal abuse."
Instigators could be a dissatisfied customer, an employee bringing private problems to work or a complete stranger.
Chief Bialkowski advised looking for unusual behavior, and among employees: high absenteeism, increased use of drugs or alcohol, a decline in personal hygiene or appearance, ignoring workplace policies, anger without provocation and empathy with displays of violence in the news.
"If you see a sudden change, it can't hurt to take note of it," Chief Bialkowski said.
"We'd rather be called and not be needed than the opposite--not be called and be needed."
Lt. Brown recommended remaining calm with a potentially violent person and treating him fairly.
"Listen to the person. He often believes he's not being listened to," Lt. Brown said. "Respond to his problem and try to solve it."
As precautions, Chief Bialkowski suggested businesses have strict policies for employees and have a plan for when a situation occurs.
He also said businesses could have security cameras, or post saying there are cameras, even if there aren't.
Asked about businesses keeping pepper spray or guns on the premises, Chief Bialkowski offered a better idea.
"The best remedy is to call us," he said.
Chief Bialkowski said his department will work individually with businesses for more in-depth advice. He plans to have a similar session for the general public in the spring.