Shuttered UD dorms take on new life as police training ground
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
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.
Sgt. Tom Maiura and fellow members of the Newark Police Department SWAT team participate in a training drill inside the Rodney dorm complex.
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.