08/02/2007

N.M. police tour area high schools; prepare to handle the worst

By Carolyn Carolson
Albuquerque Journal

 
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — What if a gunman shot several students then locked himself in the cafeteria of a West Side high school?

Police officers, instead of students, walked the halls of West Mesa High School on Tuesday imagining that scenario.

Albuquerque Police Department Westside Area Command officers are touring West Side high schools this week to become familiar with all of the high schools' layouts in case they are called in an emergency.

Albuquerque Public Schools has its own police department but in the case of a catastrophic incident APD would be called in, according to Westside Area Command Capt. Conrad Candelaria.

"Play the 'what if' in your head as we walk through," Lt. Rod Sandoval said to the three dozen or so officers armed with yellow maps of the sprawling high school.

After a group tour of the entire school, the officers from the day and swing shifts broke out into separate groups with a sergeant or two to play the "what if" game again. Sgt. Moises Grossetete made reference to last spring's Virginia Tech shootings. He told his group of about 10 officers to imagine they were called to the school because an active shooter had holed up in the cafeteria.

"When your blood is pumping and you may not be thinking clearly, regain your composure and revert back to your training," Grossetete said.

Some of the comments by the officers were to get as close to where the shooter is located and take control of the situation to stop the shooter from hurting or killing any more people.

"Minutes count when saving lives," Grossetete said.

Grossetete, along with Sgt. Gabriel Mares and three or so other officers stationed at the Westside Command, attended West Mesa so walking through the halls was kind of like a trip down memory lane.

"Except when we were here no one carried guns, maybe a knife or two," Mares said.

The officers of the Westside Area Command will tour five high schools, Candelaria said.

He said in addition to West Mesa the officers will tour Cibola, St. Pius X, Bosque School and Volcano Vista.

Rio Grande High School is in Bernalillo County and is taken care of by Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department, Candelaria said.

Officers said the tours are a good idea.

"Anything to familiarize us will help," Officer M.D. Miller said.

In the smaller groups, the officers talked about how they would handle incidents from an active shooter to a chemical spill where all 3,000 or so students would have to be evacuated.  
 
Copyright 2007 Albuquerque Journal 

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