WHITESTOWN — The violent rally and protests in Charlottesville, Va. in 2017 were some of the darkest days in the career of police captain Tito Durrette. One civilian and two state troopers were killed.
But ever since, Durrette has taken the lessons from that hectic day and is working to spread that information to law enforcement agencies across the country. Captain Durrette was in Whitestown this week as an instructor at the New York State Preparedness Training Center.
“We never experienced anything like that. And we learned some lessons from it, and we wanted to make sure what we learned could be spread out to other agencies in other states to be better prepared to it address it in their own communities,” said Durrette. “If you’ve never seen something like that occur, how do you respond to it?”
The Preparedness Center held their fifth annual Excelsior Challenge this week, bringing together SWAT teams, bomb squads and K-9 officers from across the state to take part in a series of life-like simulations to give them first-hand experience with some of the nation’s more extreme situations. Durrette was one of several officers brought in who have responded to large scale incidents in their local jurisdictions, and who are training other officers in how to react.
Durrette helped organize a fake bombing at a protest scenario. Large groups of volunteer role-players played the part of both protesters and counter-protesters, similar to what police encountered at the Charlottesville rally. The real event involved a subject driving a car into a crowd, while the training scenario involved a bomb going off in the middle of the protest.
“We are able to introduce it to them in a somewhat controlled environment, so we can get their thought process going and have them experience it. So if it ever comes to them, they’ve seen it and they know how to deal with it,” Durrette explained, praising the facilities, employees and volunteers at the Preparedness Training Center.
“Any critical incident, you’re going to have lessons learned. And those lessons learned we apply to better prepare us for the next attack. Failing to prepare, you’re preparing to fail.”
This year’s Excelsior Challenge involved more than 110 law enforcement officers from 29 agencies, including the Metro SWAT Team, which involves the Utica and New Hartford police departments, as well as the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office. The Challenge also included 47 instructors and more than 130 role-players.
The training scenarios included the bomb at the large-scale mass gathering, a gunman at a church service, an attack on a hospital emergency room and more.
“There’s no perfect way to do it. So talking among each other, having a lot of different agencies here, helps us understand what works, what doesn’t work, and we share that among each other,” said Joseph Commisso, a SWAT officer from the Syracuse Police Department.
“You don’t want the situation to be live your first time encountering it. They do a great job, especially the role players, of mocking up a real world scenario and having us go through it.”
Students from Oneida-Herkimer-Madison BOCES also volunteered to help out during the Challenge.
“It is a very dangerous world, and nobody knows that more than the officers that are here training this week,” said Bob Stallman, assistant director of the Training Center.
“They take it extremely seriously. We are so impressed with the professionalism of the agencies that come here day after day, especially during this event. They take it very seriously, but they have a lot of fun; that’s how you learn.”