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By Joe Wallek
TUSD Trustee 

TUSD Security

 

August 17, 2019



My son recently graduated from TUSD. In the intervening years, there wasn’t a single day that an inescapable concern wasn’t present as he set off for school. In the event of an active shooter, and the absence of an armed Tehachapi Police School Resource Officer (SRO), who would physically protect my son until law enforcement arrives? The unsettling answer was NO ONE.

As a TUSD trustee, the most important duty I have to this district is to ensure the safety of students and staff. With the exception of the presence of an SRO, this District has no means of physically protecting anyone from a violent life threatening incident. This needs to change.

Long before I became a trustee, as a parent, I met several times with TUSD administration regarding my concerns with these security issues. I was, essentially, patronized and sent on my way.

As a trustee, I have placed SECURITY on the Future Business agenda. This has languished for well over a year. As of this date it has not been brought forward for discussion. I have an obligation to reach out now to parents, students, staff and the community with my concerns.

There have been 229 school shootings since the 1999 Columbine massacre. These numbers don’t include the instances when a shooter was stopped before causing deaths or injuries.

304: The number of fatalities since Columbine.

485: The number of injuries resulting from shootings since Columbine.

36: The number of 2019 school shootings (as of June 10, 2019).

97: The number of 2018 school shootings.

35: The number of mass school shootings in 2018 alone. (Mass shooting defined as four or more killed excluding shooter.)

February 2018, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School: 14 students and three staff killed.

May 2018 Santa Fe High School: Eight students, two staff killed.

During the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, 20 students and six staff were murdered.

Currently the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting accounts for the highest body count at 32 victims.

Unfortunately, the frequency of school shootings, as reported by the press, has fundamentally changed. Unless the body count is high, school shootings with low numbers receive little attention; except by the victims’ loved ones.

I believe many school districts have become complacent and not proactive in physically protecting students and staff by relying on the “experts’” statistical low probability of an active shooter event occurring at one of their schools. That is – until it does happen – then that statistic becomes 100 percent.

Most, but not all, of school attacks are carried out by current or former students who have bypassed security measures placing them at the location of attack and in direct contact with their victims.

The U.S. Department of Education found, “Almost all of the attackers are current students at the school where they carried out their attacks.” The FBI found that 90 percent of middle and high school shootings were committed by an enrolled student. Keep in mind heavily armed adults have also been responsible for attacks in our schools.

Rarely are school shootings sudden, impulsive acts. Attacks are generally planned and thought out beforehand. Preparation includes diagrams of the attack location, weapons, body armor, sometimes “hit lists” and conducting rehearsals. Knowledge by current/former students of security and control measures allows the attacker to circumvent security infrastructure and place them in the best location to inflict maximum casualties.

An example of this ability to bypass school emergency plans occurred during the 2018 Parkland, Fla. shooting. The shooter, a former student of the school and familiar with the school emergency plans, rendered those plans inoperative by activating a fire alarm. Seventeen students died.

The Columbine High School Shooting in 1999 changed the tactics in how law enforcement was trained responding to active shooter incidents. The police responding did as they were trained to do: contain, set up a perimeter and wait for SWAT to arrive. During the almost 45 minutes it took for SWAT to assemble and go in, the shooters killed 13 people. When SWAT finally entered, the shooters killed themselves. During the several hours it took officers to secure each room, one of the wounded bled to death. Columbine initiated the most sweeping changes in police tactics addressing active shooters.

Police today have developed tactics to address the immediacy of a rapid response. One strategy is to employ contact teams. Responding officers from different agencies group together to confront the gunman. Unless officers respond at the same time, another approach considered by some agencies to save time and lives is the solo-officer response. The rationale with this response is the longer an officer waits for back-up, a time deficit in saving lives is created.

Considering that active shooters target their victims in the first few minutes; seconds are critical. It becomes a race against the clock. Because of the possibility that the first victims may be the administrators and staff charged with initiating emergency procedures, a 911 call may be made only after gunshots are heard. Casualties have already been taken. The clock is running. By the time information is dispatched to officers and assuming the SRO is at a different school site, officers arriving at the scene could be five minutes or longer. Generally law enforcement has between one and three minutes to locate the shooter and stop the killing. How many times can a shooter pull a trigger in one to three minutes? As much as every law enforcement officer spares no effort in responding to the scene of an active shooter, time is their enemy.

There are currently two models most schools utilize in dealing with an active shooter: “Lockdown” and “Run-Hide-Fight.” In my opinion and others both are flawed.

The “Lockdown” protocol, known by some as the “hide and hope” strategy, generally applies to students already in a classroom. Students are not always in classrooms. Recess, lunch, assemblies and class passing periods are problematic, if “Lockdown” is required. Cafeterias, gyms, locker rooms and bathrooms do not provide the same level of protection a locked classroom might. Also the K-5 population presents a different set of concerns in attempting to direct them back to a classroom.

What protocols are in place to address the special needs kids who have mobility disabilities or have difficulties processing information or have adverse reactions to alarms, or a staff member with a disability?

Assuming students are in a classroom presents its own problems. Do you open a door for a late arriving student? How are you protected from entry through a window? Almost all classrooms have windows.

One school conducted an active shooter drill. All the “Lockdown” procedures were in place. The shooter made entry into the classroom and systematically shot everyone in their hiding spots. One by one everyone was shot. The active shooting drill resulted in 40 people being shot; 20 people killed. The actual shooting time was two minutes and 911 had yet to be called.

Some critics of this approach believe that a “Lockdown” only approach actually contributes to the number of casualties experienced from an active shooter by the efficient clustering of victims.

The other model is the “Run-Hide-Fight” strategy. This model advocates that students faced with one or more active shooters, will have the presence of mind, in a life threatening environment, to run to a safe place, hide and, only as a last resort, fight back.

The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t adequately address the reality of an active shooter at a school site.

Virtually all the “Run-Hide-Fight” training videos, somehow, miraculously, find students back in a building or classroom, barricading doors and preparing to engage in battle with an active shooter. Confrontation generally doesn’t end well.

“Run-Hide-Fight” is essentially a modified version of a “Lockdown.”

How would this model be implemented during lunch time at an elementary school where several hundred youngsters are on a playground? During this time, it is reasonable to assume most teachers are unavailable and away from their locked classrooms.

Where do several hundred K-5 terror-driven students run to? In the panic driven pandemonium, where do several hundred screaming students find a safe hiding place? How are these young children expected to fight back? Who will physically protect them until law enforcement arrives? This scenario is grim.

Many students, paralyzed with fear, will freeze in place. Students with disabilities may have no assistance. Staff may also succumb to panic. It is everyone for themselves. When law enforcement arrives the chaos will be challenging. A similar scenario could also be expected during lunch at the middle or high school.

Participating in an active shooter drill is far different then facing the imminent possibility of death.

The case is sufficiently made for an armed presence at each of TUSD’s school sites. Active shooters do not want to face armed opposition. Time is the critical factor in protecting students and staff. Currently the TUSD has one SRO to cover six schools. The officer can’t protect anyone, unless he is there. The data confirms most shootings are over by the time law enforcement arrives.

Unfortunately, we live in a world of violence. Whereas, at one time, schools were sanctuaries from senseless violence, they are now soft targets.

Considering response time to an active shooter is critical, I am proposing placing an armed retired police officer at each school site. Many states and school districts have already taken this proactive step to physically protect their students and staff. Retired police officers are first responders, have years of experience and most are authorized to carry a concealed weapon. This community is rich in this resource.

The importance of having retired officers as armed school security is reflected by Congressman Steve Chabot (R-OH). He introduced legislation to enhance school security by encouraging the hiring of armed retired officers.

“Chabot’s legislation, H.R. 5139, the Hire Our Heroes to Protect Our Schools Act of 2018, reauthorizes the COPS Secure Our Schools grant program to provide states, localities, and tribal governments with the resources they need to hire retired officers, and take other common sense steps to prevent violence in our schools.”

“Placing highly trained officers…in our schools is one of the easiest methods to bolster school security. And no one is better trained and better equipped to handle a potential school shooting situation than our nation’s men and women in law enforcement, and the same holds true for retired officers. Hiring retired officers to provide school security is a common sense step…and it could be achieved almost immediately.” The House of Representatives passed this legislation March 14, 2018.

The TUSD should seriously look into this grant.

The most salient benefit of having an armed retired officer at a school site, is the reduction in response time to an incident where seconds count. Can an armed officer’s presence ensure the safety of everyone? Unfortunately not. But, by reducing critical response time until law enforcement arrives, it could save lives.

I believe there is an abundance of retired officers in our community eager to serve and protect the students and staff of the TUSD.

I expect some school administrators to have the “it can’t happen here,” or “you can’t plan for every emergency” mentality. It may be appropriate to remind the naysayers who will have a knee-jerk reaction to this proposal, that virtually all shootings occurred at “it can’t happen here” schools. Hope and denial will not protect anyone.

Students and staff deserve more than passive security measures such as a closed campus, video cameras, visitor/staff ID and locked classrooms; none of these measures protect anyone. These passive security measures will not stop a determined shooter from simply walking through the front office of one of our schools and onto the campus. Think Sandyhook. With the exception of an SRO or armed retired officer, no one can prevent this from happening.

The TUSD needs to be proactive in protecting students and staff. There is not a better way to accomplish this then placing highly trained retired officers in each of our schools. Our kids started school on Aug. 14.

This should have been done yesterday!

Since I have written this article there have been three mass shootings: Gilroy, California, July 28, 3 killed, 18 wounded; El Paso, Texas, Aug. 3, 20 dead, 26 wounded. Dayton, Ohio, Aug. 4, in less than 30 seconds nine were killed, 27 wounded before officers killed the shooter. The shooter was about to enter a club where dozens had fled to escape the carnage. Response time was critical in saving lives.

The opinions expressed are my own.

Joe Wallek,

TUSD Trustee

 
 

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