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Police train at Cal State Northridge for response to shooting scene

December 20, 2012 |  1:35 pm

CSUN training drill
Local law enforcement agencies descended on Cal State Northridge on Thursday for active-shooter training, unaware they would be primarily dealing with deaf students.

“CSUN has the largest hearing-impaired student population on the West Coast,” said campus police Capt. Scott Vanscoy, who helped organized the simulation. “With what’s happening around the country, our job as law enforcement is to prepare ourselves for any situation.”

Up to 200 officers from six departments, including LAPD, the Los Angeles Unified School District and California Highway Patrol, participated in the five-hour training.

Students and faculty from the school’s National Center on Deafness served as actors, donning fake wounds and in some cases, weapons, for the 20 sessions.

This is the fifth year the Cal State Northridge Police Department brought in neighboring agencies to train during the winter break. Department officials  said they had been planning it for months and that it wasn’t prompted by the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Past scenarios have included a high school and theater shooting, Vanscoy said, adding that officials  are considering doing a simulation with an athletic event as the backdrop.

The biggest challenge in Thursday’s scenario was communicating with deaf students. Translators are available at major campus events and classrooms when needed, but in a shooting, they won't be, Vanscoy said.

In some instances officers encountered students reaching into their pockets, Vanscoy said, which could’ve been interpreted as reaching for a weapon when in fact they were taking out a notepad and pen.

“The officers get a lot of fantastic feedback as it relates to working with other agencies ... ,"  Vanscoy said. “With the shooting in Connecticut ... we can expect more training like this.”

Cal State Northridge Police Chief Anne Glavin said that since the 1999 attack on Columbine High School in Colorado, there’s been an increase in training officers to serve as first-responders as opposed to waiting for SWAT units to arrive.

“In any real situation you never know what the scope is, and as I’m sure is obvious from the shootings around the country they can be very small or very large,” Glavin said.

Just as important is the college’s workplace violence training, which focuses on helping faculty and staff pick up on behavior that could lead to violence, Glavin said.

In 2011, David Everson, then a 22-year-old CSUN student, was charged with possessing explosive materials and having a firearm on campus.

Staff placed him in a mental health facility when his parents called the college, fearing for his well-being after Everson made threats to students and staff, Glavin said. A search of his dorm revealed the weapons he had been hiding.

“These things can happen anywhere,” Glavin said. “Sadly, the reality is they’re not going to go away.”


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-- Adolfo Flores

Photo: L.A. County sheriff's deputy Jose Serna holds a simulated shotgun as he and others prepare for a training scenario at Cal State Northridge. Credit: Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times