WESTERLY — Lack of access to the password-protected camera system at Bacock Village, interstate police communications, and the town's location in the corner of the state all presented challenges on Dec. 19 when multiple agencies responded to the shooting at the Cross Street housing complex.
"As with any response, there will always be areas for improvement," Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey said. "The shortfalls in this effort fortunately weren't anything that jeopardized the response, anyone's safety or the integrity of the case. Now we are in the process of determining how we might better prepare for any future needs."
The Westerly Police Department and the Rhode Island State Police played leading roles in responding to the shooting, in which a resident of the complex killed the office manager and injured two others before taking his own life.
During the active shooter response, which lasted two hours and 55 minutes, Lacey said access to the facility's camera system was the biggest challenge. The system was password encrypted. The police contacted Property Advisory Group & Affordable Housing Strategies Inc., the building's parent company, but Lacey said the company was unable to provide the password.
The Providence-based firm offered to send an administrator to help, but the police didn't have time to wait.
"We realized the managers, the victims in this case, were the ones with the codes we needed. At that point, we immediately summonsed our IT person, who is a civilian employee, to aid us in gaining access," Lacey said.
With the help of the IT technician and the head of maintenance for the facility, who the police said aided officers throughout the process, the department was eventually able to gain access to the system. The problem then was to identify the location of the cameras, which weren't labeled, and to review the video by hand.
Another issue was resident access to the entrance cameras. All tenants had access to a camera that provided a live feed to their rooms, although it did not allow for recording or rewinding the video. The access was unrestricted for several hours while the police sought to follow Giachello's movements, but eventually the camera was disabled.
Lacey and Capt. Derek W. Borek, director of training for the Rhode Island State Police, said that the incident demonstrated that communications among multiple agencies was an issue that needed to be addressed. The response involved law enforcement units from Rhode Island and Connecticut, as well as federal agencies, and no single system was available to them.
"Communication is always a challenge, but it was especially so on this one given the geographical location and systems available to each department," Borek said. "It's something that prior to this incident, we were already working on in Rhode Island at a state level. We were able to overcome that challenge, but it is something we will continue to seek to address moving forward."
For the tactical teams, Borek said, it meant that the command staffs had to work together in a manner that would be considered "old fashioned" — that is, literally talking with one another in person and relaying the messages to their teams.
Lacey praised the work of Borek, who serves as commander of the Rhode Island State Police's tactical team, and his own staff for quickly getting on the same page. But he noted that the Westerly and Stonington police were also forced to communicate more directly rather than through police radio. The Stonington department is tied into the Connecticut State Police system, and that system is not yet available to the Westerly police force, Lacey said.
"We were already in the process of tying into that system, and I believe this reinforces the need to do so," Lacey said. "There's a lot of discussion between states as well. The ultimate goal is to eventually get all first responders on the same page so that, no matter where we are, we can all use one system. We just aren't there yet."
Borek said that most of the state police's resources were in the Providence area when the call for assistance came in. State troopers from the southern barracks arrived quickly via Exit 92 of I-95 and served as an initial response team, while the remaining state police resources were divided to make sure there was coverage in case any other major incidents occurred in the state, he said.
For local police, who were stretched as a result of the initial response, the other challenge was securing the area. Lacey said that with the assistance of local fire departments, who set roadblocks in many locations, commanders were able to quickly isolate the facility.
"The one mistake, which we saw in our review, was that some cars had gained access through the Granite Street Shopping Plaza," Lacey said. "We had sealed all roads, but by closing Cross Street at Granite Street, some cars were able to initially cut through the plaza. That issue was realized quickly and addressed."
Preparing a better response
With the investigation slowly drawing to a close, Lacey said more than 15 members of his department gathered on Jan. 17 to discuss the response during an informal debriefing. The effort was intended to help identify areas where responses can be improved.
Police chiefs from southwestern Rhode Island are also scheduled to meet in the coming week to review the incident and determine if any policy changes or new laws are needed. If so, Lacey said, the chiefs would make a formal recommendation to state legislators.
"We will continue to review the case and work with (state legislators) to make sure that any issues are addressed and, God forbid we ever need to respond to something like this again, we are prepared to respond in an ever more efficient and effective manner," he said.