Long Island students and the police commissioners of Nassau and Suffolk counties discuss school safety and the response to threats.

Long Island’s county police wouldn’t “sit outside and wait,” as Uvalde police did for more than an hour last month while a gunman killed 21 people and wounded more than a dozen others at a Texas elementary school, Nassau’s police commissioner said Tuesday.

“We learned a lot from Texas. We do not delay. I know Suffolk does not delay. We go — we go until we stop the threat. We don’t sit outside and wait,” the commissioner, Patrick Ryder, said via video at a Newsday Live webinar.

Ryder said that most school shootings are over in 2 to 3 minutes; Nassau’s emergency response time averages 3 to 5 minutes. He said narrowing that gap in response time “is critical to saving lives.”

Ryder and his Suffolk County counterpart, Rodney Harrison, were panelists at a Newsday Live webinar: “What's being done about threats of violence made at LI schools?” Moderated by Newsday associate editor Joye Brown, the webinar included both commissioners, as well as two Long Island teenagers who appeared in an earlier segment.

Last week, Texas' public safety chief Steven McCraw called the police response to the Uvalde shooting, at Robb Elementary School on May 24, an “abject failure.” The gunman, who was later shot dead by the police, killed 19 students and two teachers. The authorities waited more than an hour outside before entering the building and arrested parents who tried to go save their children. McCraw said there had been enough police on scene to stop the gunman three minutes after he entered the building.

On Long Island, no such shooting has taken place at any school, although there have been threats of violence made by students. In Nassau, for instance, there were 32 school threats over one week two weeks ago, Ryder said.

“This thing here, this social media, is what is killing us, because these kids make threats. A kid two weeks ago made a threat, ‘I’m gonna blow the school up Tuesday afternoon’. That kid who just didn’t want to take his test, and now he’s facing, making a terroristic threat,” Ryder said. “And I try to get that message over when I speak to the school, saying, ‘look what happened to this kid’s life because he made that bad choice.’”

Harrison gave examples of threats made in Bellport and Commack, and other students reported the threats. In early June, Suffolk police said the department responded to 16 threats of violence against schools. 

Harrison said at Tuesday's webinar: “Once my investigators got involved, we were able to make an expeditious arrest and charge those individuals with terrorist threats.”

Ryder and Harrison — who said the police forces coordinate with school districts and typically have access to surveillance video feeds from school buildings — say they urge students to cooperate with drills carried out to prepare for shootings, in the unlikely event of a mass shooting.

So-called active-shooter drills are not universally recommended: Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun-control group, says that 95% of American public schools drill students on lockdown procedures, “Yet, there is almost no research affirming the value of these drills for preventing school shootings or protecting the school community when shootings do occur.”

The webinar's student panelists, Jessica Knaster of Plainview Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School, and Sophie Weissman of Oceanside High School, both of the Class of 2022, said they’ve undergone the drills since they were much younger. But Weissman said her first instinct would be to flee.

“I think if you were to ask almost anyone in high school, they would agree with me in saying that they have a plan,” she said. “If a shooter were to enter the school, I know myself, if a shooter were to enter, I would break the lockdown procedures. I would jump out the first-floor window and just sprint.”

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