Shut­tered UD dorms take on new life as po­lice train­ing ground

Cecil Whig - - REGIONAL - By JOSH SHAN­NON

Spe­cial from the Ne­wark Post

— With its cin­derblock walls, nar­row jagged hall­ways and small rooms, the Uni­ver­sity of Delaware’s Rod­ney Com­plex re­sem­bles a prison, many stu­dents of­ten said.

Now, on many days, the shut­tered dorms look like an ac­tive crime scene as SWAT teams and other po­lice units from around the state use it for train­ing.

“When­ever a build­ing gets shut down, we look at it as an op­por­tu­nity to do some train­ing,” UD Po­lice Chief Pa­trick Og­den said. “It’s best to do train­ing in a re­al­life en­vi­ron­ment.”

Rod­ney in par­tic­u­lar is valu­able be­cause it of­fers a va­ri­ety of hall­way lay­outs, stair­cases and dif­fer­ent­sized rooms for the of­fi­cers to prac­tice in. Og­den said

NE­WARK, DEL.

it’s im­por­tant for of­fi­cers to be ac­cus­tomed to op­er­at­ing in a wide ar­ray of sit­u­a­tions, adding that even some­thing as sim­ple as whether a door opens in­ward or out­ward can af­fect how the room is han­dled.

“Those build­ings give you a va­ri­ety of dif­fer­ent looks,” he said.

Built in 1966, the Hill­side Road dorm com­plex closed to stu­dents in May 2015. Along with the nearby Dickinson Com­plex, it sits va­cant, sur­rounded by fences and locked gates. The city of Ne­wark is in talks to pur­chase the Rod­ney site for pos­si­ble use as a stormwa­ter pond.

Og­den said that last sum­mer, UD of­fered every po­lice agency in the state the op­por­tu­nity to use the build­ing for Ad­vanced Law En­force­ment Rapid Re­sponse Train­ing, which teaches pa- trol of­fi­cers how to re­spond to ac­tive shoot­ers. Be­cause the goal is to stop a shooter as quickly as pos­si­ble, the task of­ten falls to pa­trol of­fi­cers rather than wait­ing for a SWAT team to ar­rive.

Since then, sev­eral agen­cies have also used the build­ing to train K-9 of­fi­cers, SWAT teams and other units.

Though the train­ing hap­pens in­side and is not vis­i­ble from the street, Og­den noted that the train­ing ex­er­cises are an­nounced on UD’s web­site and on signs hung up at the prop­erty as to not alarm neigh­bors.

Last week, the Ne­wark Po­lice Depart­ment SWAT team spent the day there prac­tic­ing ma­neu­vers for clear­ing rooms dur­ing an ac­tive shooter or hostage sit­u­a­tion.

Rod­ney’s hall­ways have clus­ters of four doors, each lead­ing to a dorm room, a sit­u­a­tion that can be chal­leng­ing for of­fi­cers mov­ing through a build­ing dur­ing a real-life sit­u­a­tion. Count­ing the hall­way in front of them and the hall­way be­hind them, that lay­out presents six places from which a threat could emerge.

The of­fi­cers prac­ticed a care­fully chore­ographed way of sys­tem­at­i­cally clear­ing each room while other of­fi­cers keep an eye out for pos­si­ble threats. They walked through the sce­nario sev­eral times, with in­struc­tors point­ing out ways to im­prove and ex­per­i­ment­ing with dif­fer­ent po­si­tions.

Sgt. Scott Simp­son, who com­mands the team, said the four op­pos­ing door­ways are a “tac­ti­cal night­mare,” so he rel­ished the op­por­tu­nity to use the dorms for train­ing, which his team has al­ready done a half-dozen times.

“You get every ob­sta­cle you could run into,” he said. “We try to get dif­fer­ent looks and go to dif­fer­ent places.”

Ne­wark’s SWAT team re­cently merged with Mid­dle­town Po­lice’s SWAT team in or­der to achieve a higher class of cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. Ne­wark con­trib­utes 12 mem­bers and a com­man­der, while Mid­dle­town brings six mem­bers and an­other leader.

The joint squad spe­cial­izes in hostage and bar­ri­cade sit­u­a­tions, but is most com­monly used to serve high-risk war­rants when po­lice lead­ers be­lieve there is a pos­si­bil­ity the wanted sus­pect could get vi­o­lent. It is typ­i­cally called out about a dozen times each year, Simp­son said.

The SWAT of­fi­cers, who all have day-to-day du­ties with pa­trol and other units, train to­gether at least twice a month, of­ten us­ing va­cant build­ings around the city. They also train in schools and large com­mer­cial build­ings so they are fa­mil­iar with those sites if they are called there for an emer­gency.

“It’s best if it’s not the first time you’ve been in there,” Simp­son said.

SWAT team mem­bers Sgt. Scott Simp­son and Ofc. Ju­lia Fab­broni prac­tice clear­ing a room dur­ing a train­ing ex­er­cise at the Rod­ney dorm com­plex.

NE­WARK POST PHO­TOS BY JOSH SHAN­NON

Sgt. Tom Maiura and fel­low mem­bers of the Ne­wark Po­lice Depart­ment SWAT team par­tic­i­pate in a train­ing drill in­side the Rod­ney dorm com­plex.

NE­WARK POST PHOTO BY JOSH SHAN­NON

A mem­ber of the Mid­dle­town Po­lice Depart­ment SWAT team, which op­er­ates with the Ne­wark Po­lice Depart­ment squad, par­tic­i­pates in a train­ing drill in­side the Rod­ney dorm com­plex.

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