Last week University of New Mexico campus police responded to reports of a man threatening folks with a gun. The school sent a mass text alert and officers eventually arrested a man with a BB gun. Public Health New Mexico’s Sarah Trujillo spoke with UNMPD’s Lieutenant Trace Peck about what would happen if someone was firing a gun on campus.
PECK: We’ve never had an active shooter here on campus. But all of our officers are active shooter trained. I want to say 35 out of our 40 officers are retired from either [Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department] or [Albuquerque police].
An active shooter call, if we had something like that go on, it would be an immediate response as far as the siren going off and hopefully all the students know if they hear that siren, its shelter in place. Simultaneously you’d probably receive an emergency text saying 'active shooter, Popejoy, everybody shelter in place, stay away from area.'
Officers are trained whether it’s one officer arriving or five officers arriving – they go in. They’re not securing the perimeter. It’s been shown on almost every single active shooter in the United States, once people intervene, they either take care of the problem or the people shoot themselves. They were so many in the 1980's when we didn’t have a lot of this stuff, that they waited for the SWAT team to arrive or they setup a perimeter – that’s not how it's done anymore. The threat is taken care of.
KUNM: Is that new or is that something that they always have to do when they join?
PECK: No. You know after Columbine 10, 15 years ago, and then the Emcore shooting here in Albuquerque years ago, it really came to light that officers need to be trained in how they were arriving to these calls and their mindset going into a situation like this.
I’ve always done it the last 15, 10 years with the city and then coming here and then especially coming to a campus environment where on the positive side it’s a small area compared to running code across the city to Del Norte High School. Here, our response is going to be a lot faster, actually having a presence here on campus, which is kind of unique for the whole city. We’re the only entity that has its own police force for an area that’s five, ten square miles at the most.
We’re pretty sharp and we’ve done a lot of simulation training to where we’ve taken over an APS facility and done simulation with actual weapons that are blank guns, but they fire blanks and have tape recordings of people down the hallway screaming and how do you react to this as you go to the scene. That’s kind of the basic training that we go through to where your adrenaline is going, and they try to make it as real as possible and we have training like that at least quarterly, if not every six months.
KUNM: Can you describe more about the kind of process to send out an alert, just cause it kind of confuses me – I’ll look at that daily crime log that’s online and it’s so interesting all of the things that happen all around campus but obviously you can’t do alerts for everything, so how do you make that decision?
PECK: The biggest criteria is immediate threat or harm to others. If we feel like there’s an active threat, that’s when the alerts going out. When we want to keep people from an area, that’s how the alert will go out.
It isn’t going to go out after the fact or if it’s this person threatened that person, that’s not a threat to the community or the staff, it’s a threat to that person. You know of course he walks in with a gun or something, that changes the whole dynamics but if you just have two people fighting, then we know who the offender is, we know the situation, we’re not gonna send out an alert unless we feel like it’s an immediate threat to the students.
But if we send alerts out on a homeless person aggressively panhandling and you started getting those on a daily basis or a couple times a day, who’s going to be looking at these alerts? We want people to take them seriously.
KUNM’s Public Health New Mexico project is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the McCune Charitable Foundation.