Officers from the University of Colorado Police Department conducted drills Wednesday intended to train and prepare them should there be a shooting on the Boulder campus.
In a vacated building on CU's East Campus, near Foothills Parkway and Colorado Avenue, 15 police officers spent the afternoon in "active shooter training," aided by actors who played the role of the gunman and victims.
The CU Police Department first began the training scenarios soon after the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, though Wednesday's drill was particularly relevant in light of recent mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December and at the Century 16 cineplex in Aurora last July.
College campuses, including CU, increased their attention on security following the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, during which gunman Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people and injured 17 others in two attacks that were about two hours apart.
"The threat exists as we've tragically witnessed," CU police spokesman Ryan Huff said Wednesday. "These tragedies happen on college campuses -- and even an elementary school. I think every police department needs to be ready."
CU also has a group of about a dozen people, including psychologists and police, who can strategically intervene when they learn of a student making threats, whether it be to commit suicide or to harm others, said campus spokesman Bronson Hilliard.
For the first time, the CU Police Department opened up a portion of its active shooter training for media to cover. The annual exercise is supplemented by year-round training for CU police dispatchers and officers.
While there hasn't been a campus shooting at CU, Huff said the officers used their training on other occasions -- including an incident at Norlin Library when a contractor was using a nail gun and somebody mistook it for shots being fired.
"We hope it's training we never have to use," Huff said. "But it's important training that sadly needs to be done these days."
At Wednesday's session, officers moved through the building under various scenarios -- searching for a shooter, helping up injured officers and arresting a suspect.
Police officer Steve Cowles -- who is on the Boulder SWAT team -- said the officers used pellets and pellet guns to simulate anxiety and stress among the officers in an effort to make the drill as real as possible.
Last spring, the Colorado Supreme Court struck down CU's long-standing gun ban. Now, those with concealed-carry permits are allowed to bring their weapons to campus, something that CU officials long had argued had potential to add chaos if there were to be an emergency such as a campus shooting.
Huff said the fact that guns are now allowed on campus hasn't changed the officers' training. However, police want those who work and study at CU to know that if officers come into a building on a report of a shooting, those with concealed carry permits displaying guns could be perceived as threats.
Furthermore, Huff said police tell students that if officers come into a building to respond to a shooting, it's best for them to place their hands above their heads so officers can best assess the threat.
The training took place in the McAllister Building on CU's East Campus. The building was formerly leased to private companies but is now vacated as CU plans to renovate it for academic space.
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CU's safety tips
The University of Colorado Police Department encourages students and employees to sign up for campus alerts at colorado.edu/alerts for updates during emergency situations. The university uses the service to send text and e-mail alerts during emergencies. More than 31,000 CU affiliates have signed up for the service.
In the case of a campus shooting, CU police offer the following tips:
Run: If safe, get away from where the shooting is happening.
Hide: If you can't escape, find a secure area to hide. Lock doors, turn off lights, silence phones and look for potential weapons.
Fight: If a shooter appears to be ready to harm you, fight back. Use weapons. Tackle the shooter. Take away the suspect's weapon and hold the suspect until police arrive. ___