In just four months, new police chief Juan Torres has already improved community policing and is now looking to bring more training and programs to his Oberlin department.
As the nation reels from the San Bernardino shooting, which left 14 people dead at the hands of terrorists, local officers will take part in two active shooter drills.
The first will take place Dec. 21 at Langston Middle School. The second will happen at the start of 2016 at Oberlin College.
Torres said gun violence across the U.S. has made it clear police need to be prepared for shooters. “It can happen anywhere,” he said.
Ohio had two mass shootings last month in Youngstown and Columbus, leaving five dead and six others injured.
In fact, November was a horrific month for shootings, many affecting small suburban communities not unlike our own.
The San Bernardino shooting was the 355th of 2015, occurring on just the 336th day of the year. But it wasn’t even the first mass shooting of the day — earlier, a 34-year-old woman was killed and three more people were injured by gunfire in Savannah, Ga.
According to www.shootingtracker.com, there were 33 mass shootings in the 30-day span. The site uses the FBI’s definition of the term — any incident in which four or more people are shot.
The death toll hit 54 for the month.
The first Oberlin drill will be only for police, not other rescue workers. Sgt. Victor Ortiz and Ptl. Billie Neadham chose the Langston site because it has multiple floors, Torres said.
Officers will take a class on shooting scenarios and then participate in multiple drills inside the school.
Torres said one of the hardest parts about an active shooter scenario is teaching officers to walk past injured people to first find the shooter and other dangers inside the building.
Neadham participated in an Amherst police-led drill this past September at Steele High School, which served as a training ground for the Lorain County SWAT teacm, sheriff’s deputies, firefighters, ambulance crews, LifeFlight, hospitals, bomb experts, and more.
He told the News-Tribune survival should be everyone’s number one concern. Neadham serves as Oberlin’s school resource officer and frequently talks to kids about what to do if an incident were to happen here.
Amherst had 435 staffers take part in its active shooter drill.
Torres plans to bring more responders into the training at Oberlin College, including Oberlin firefighters and OC security.
He said Oberlin’s drill will not be as large as Amherst’s but he’s interested in inviting multiple departments for a larger shooting drill in the future.
“The key is to do more training,” Torres said. “If someone suspicious is in your neighborhood, call the police department.”
PROGRAMS AND PRIORITIES
When the new chief was hired in July, one of his top priorities was to get more officers out of their cars and interacting with the public.
Torres said he has created mandatory areas for officers to conduct foot patrols around town. “I intend to enhance our community policing,” he said.
He has received a lot of feedback from his staff and residents about police being out in the public eye more often.
A program Torres hopes to implement at the OPD is a volunteer partnership.
He said the public can volunteer to help the police department with entering data, department activities, a police academy, and answering routine calls.
“They would help police a lot,” said Torres, who had a similar program at his last department in Virginia. “I want to bring my experience and complement it with what we have here.”
Another program Torres hopes to revive is Oberlin’s Citizen’s Police Academy.
He said it gives residents an inside look at what officers do on a regular basis.
The OPD has also been checking all the abandoned homes in town after multiple residences were broken into and copper piping was stolen.
Torres has also been stationing officers on traffic duty in areas where drivers have been seen speeding.
Valerie Urbanik can be reached at 440-775-1611 or on Twitter @ValUrbanik.
Valerie Urbanik | Oberlin News-Tribune
Oberlin police chief Juan Torres talks to members of the Oberlin City Club about an active shooter drill he plans to hold in town and new programs he wants to implement.