Local school safety: how well prepared are we?
When Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold planned and implemented the complex attack on Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, in Littleton, Colorado, by first setting off a fire bomb in a small field about three miles from the high school in an effort to divert fire and rescue personnel to that site, before they went on a shooting spree at their school that left 12 students and one teacher dead and another 24 injured before committing suicide, many of us were shocked at the idea of a school massacre. Schools were believed to be safe zones for children – and the biggest threat was thought to be talking to strangers. But in actuality, that is not true. Since 1990, there have been over 32 school shootings at schools where at least three people have been killed or injured. Rather than being an anomaly, the shootings have escalated since Columbine. There have been thousands of school shootings, and thousands of students killed and injured.
In 2000, a six-year-old shot another six-year-old in Flint. A 13-year-old honor student who had been sent home from school in Lake Worth, Florida – for throwing water balloons – returned to the school with the family's pistol, and shot his teacher dead. One after another, shootings accumulated all over the country through the decade, until April 16, 2007, when 33 were murdered and another 34 injured at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, commonly known as Virginia Tech, by a student before committing suicide.
The nation gasped, proclaimed itself horrified, that it needed new gun control and mental health measures – and lives resumed as before. Dozens more killings occurred at schools across the country, until December 14, 2012, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza first shot his mother with firearms she had legally purchased, and then drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and shot through the safety glass entrance installed, killing the school principal, psychologist, four teachers, and 20 first grade children before turning the gun on himself.
Conversations regarding gun control and school security initiatives escalated in the aftermath of the country seeing six- and seven-year-old children slaughtered in their elementary school in a matter of minutes. Schools around the country, including in Oakland County, began installing surveillance cameras in and around their schools, consistently locking all of their exit doors, and demanding that all visitors, including parents, enter through one door and sign in at the office.
Yet those moves have still not been enough. Since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, there have been dozens more school shootings around the United States. Some have been confrontations between students, or students and teachers. Some of the shooters have been students, or former students; some have been disaffected adults. Some have suffered from mental illness; others have been incidents of domestic violence with others caught in the cross hairs. Many more attacks have been thwarted by tips or reports before a shooting could take place, law enforcement confirm.
And then, on February 14, 2018, came what is now known as the Valentine's Day Massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. A 19-year-old former student, Nikolas Cruz, who had been expelled due to disciplinary issues, shot and killed 17 people and injured 14 others at the school using a semi-automatic weapon purchased legally, after activating a fire alarm. Cruz blended in with students when fleeing the building, although he was captured by law enforcement officers in an adjacent residential neighborhood after first stopping at a McDonald's.
Just as Columbine was not the first school shooting – the first is believed to have been the Enoch Brown School Massacre in Greencastle, Pennsylvania, on July 26, 1764, with nine students and one teacher shot – Marjory Stoneman Douglas will sadly not be the last in the United States. In fact, there already have been other school shootings since, including at Central Michigan University on March 2, 2018, in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, when a student killed both his parents with a gun he had hidden in his dorm room, when they came to take him home for spring break.
Many do believe the conversation is finally changing following Parkland, largely due to activism on the part of students who survived the massacre. A nationwide student protest on March 14, when students across the country, including locally, walked out of school for 17 minutes to both honor the 17 lives lost at Stoneman Douglas and as a response to stop the continued school shootings. Locally, many schools supported the right of students at the high school and middle school level to peacefully walk out on school grounds if they chose. On Saturday, March 24, March for Our Lives, a nationwide protest in both Washington DC and across the country, has been planned as both a memorial and protest, by student organizers along with the non-profit organization Everytown for Gun Safety, demanding action from Congress to ban assault weapons, require universal background checks before gun sales, and pass a gun violence restraining order law that would allow courts to disarm people who display warning signs of violent behavior.
“We applaud peaceful student activism and are proud that the conversation about school safety is being led by the students themselves. We encourage students to be civic leaders and participants and respect their right to free speech,” Bloomfield Hills Schools' superintendent Rob Glass wrote in a memo regarding the March 14 walkout. “Bloomfield Hills Schools respects students' First Amendment right to peacefully assemble, and we will not discipline students for the act of protesting as long as the protest remains peaceful and does not present a material or substantial disruption to the learning environment...Bloomfield Hills Schools is a public entity, and as such, we do not engage in these in protests. The role of our staff during these events is to keep students safe.”
Dr. Daniel Nerad, superintendent of Birmingham Public Schools, advised parents that the district supported students’ right to walk out, and for any students who chose to, staff would direct them to a designated area to gather safely. “Our Birmingham police will be present on campus at this time for the sole purpose of ensuring student safety,” Nerad wrote parents. “Administration and counselors will be present for the duration of the walkout for supervision and safety purposes. Teachers will remain in their classrooms, and classes will continue as scheduled.”
Beyond activism, some state legislators are working to bring change. State Rep. Robert Wittenberg (D-Huntington Woods), who is also the chair of the Gun Violence Prevention Caucus, introduced a “Red Flag Law” in June 2017, which would permit a court to temporarily prohibit someone from buying or possessing a firearm if he or she has been determined to be a threat to themselves or others, has been stalled in the House's Judiciary committee.
“We call it the Extreme Risk Protection Order,” Wittenberg said. “We introduced the bill (House Bill 4707) and sent it to Judiciary, and the chair, Rep. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake)," said he was willing to discuss the proposal.
Wittenberg said that after the Parkland shooting, he called Runestad, who said he'd look into it again, and Wittenberg said he's cautiously optimistic – especially since Gov. Rick Snyder said his administration is studying “best practices” to combat gun violence, and is supportive of red flag legislation, as long as it's done with due process.
Rep. Runestad did not return calls for comment, but has still not scheduled a hearing. Instead, on February 26, Runestad announced that he planned to introduce legislation that would train school employees, including teachers, to use firearms for emergency purposes. On his Michigan House' website, Runestad stated that the bills would allow secured locations of locked firearms in undisclosed locations in school buildings, and that the program would be optional. It is expected to be taken up in the Judiciary committee during the month of March.
In an email to constituents, Runestad wrote, “My plan would allow for the establishment of school marshals who would perform a function similar to the air marshals that protect flights.They would only use frangible ammunition that breaks apart upon impact, helping prevent bullets from traveling through walls and into other classrooms.”
Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard is a big supporter of Red Flag laws – and less so on arming teachers. “Red Flag Laws allows for the intervention with due process for law enforcement, to intervene before it moves from discussion and posts to action,” he said. He noted that would incorporate improving the mental health system.
“Many (shooters) have been off the rails, and the cuts to the system are short-sighted. If the individual is off the rails, the repercussions to society are low, but to individuals it can be high. Like at Sandy Hook, the Colorado theater shooting (in Aurora, Colorado), Virginia Tech – most of those cases never got to law enforcement before they flipped,” he noted.
Dr. Michelle Riba, associate director of the University of Michigan Depression Center, agrees with Bouchard. “There is not enough funding – but there is good screening. We do know many kids are expelled – but then what? Many are left unsupervised. He's still a human being. What about follow ups? Doctor appointments? We see children whose parents are there, and you have to drill down, and see there are families where guns are there. There's great impulsivity. We in the mental health industry, just as we ask new parents about car safety, or biking, roller skating and lacrosse helmets, we need to be able to ask about guns and gun safety. We know there are accidents, especially in homes where they are unsupervised.”
Having the ability to ask and have follow up – which Red Flag Laws could accomplish – would potentially remove an individual or guns from a home “where it could be potentially lethal in the wrong hands,” she emphasized.
As for arming teachers, as a law enforcement officer, Bouchard said, “There will be ideas on both sides that will not get done,” he noted. “Instead, focus on the middle, on the things that can get done. There used to be Secure Our Schools, which allowed for grants to harden our schools. Proven best practices have fallen by the wayside. We talk about increasing school liaison officers – but we lost a ton in 2008-2009 – reinstate those people. Sheriffs and liaisons in schools, who are fully-armed and fully-trained, yes. And the biggest is the canary in the cave: those relationships you build are invaluable.”
Certainly, educators and administrators are concerned and are continually working to update their school safety and security plans in light of school shootings and threats, of which there have been more than 700 copycat threats just in the two weeks after the Parkland shooting. In the metropolitan Detroit area, there have been numerous school threats, including a Canton teen who is facing two charges of terrorism threats and two counts of bomb threats, after students at Canton and Salem high schools found threats written on bathroom walls. He is being held on $250,000, no 10 percent bond. A Clinton Township teen was given a $150,000 bond for posing a threat to Chippewa Valley High School. A Green Oak Township teenager is being held on a $10 million bond after he threatened to shoot up S. Lyon High School. Guns and ammunition were found in the home of a Utica High School senior who made a social media threat, and he has been charged with making a terrorist threat or false report of terrorism, and given a $75,000 bond.
“In the past three weeks, there have been 20 reports of students using social media to make threats against schools, and 17 students were charged,” Macomb County prosecutor Eric J. Smith wrote on Facebook on March 13. “Many of these threats turned out to be made by students who claim they were just joking or making a prank. I want to be very clear: these threats are not a joke, and this behavior will not be tolerated.”
Oakland County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Paul Walton said their office has had 19 to 20 reports as well since Parkland, although not all of those have resulted in charges.
“We have been going out to schools to talk about the danger of making threats,” Walton said. “I personally have gone to S. Lyon schools four times. Before, we were talking about bullying and making threats. Now, we've flipped that, and say, if you want to say something and get attention, you can't. You could be facing a 20-year felony as an adult, or as a juvenile, you could be adjudicated until you're 19. It could affect the rest of your life.”
Smith said each of the 17 defendants have been charged with false threat of terrorism or threat of terrorism, both of which are felonies, and if convicted, can carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. Further, students may lose scholarships and financial aid; be denied college admission; and be required to disclose pending cases or criminal convictions on job applications.
“We explain to kids the crime happens when you hit send,” Walton said. “It's false threat of terrorism. Police agencies immediately go to the home to check and see if there are weapons. Before, many schools would deal with threats or issues internally. Now, schools are reporting everything to the authorities.”
Many, although not all, local schools, have experienced threats. Bloomfield Hills Schools' spokesperson Shira Good said they received a false threat since the Florida shooting, although she declined to elaborate on specifics other than it was found to not be credible. “We treat everything seriously. It doesn't matter if it's big or small. We go through the Bloomfield Township or West Bloomfield police departments to investigate – and people would be surprised to learn how thoroughly we investigate,” Good said.
Corey Donberger, the one full-time Bloomfield Township police liaison officer to Bloomfield Hills Schools, said that if they receive a tip, regardless of how minor or severe it may appear, “we are going to follow up on it. In today's day and time, we are going to investigate. It may start at the school level, but it may become law enforcement.”
Donberger splits his time between all of the Bloomfield Hills schools, and as a full township police officer, is fully armed in case a situation warrants it.
On February 28, an online math forum used by students at Birmingham's Derby Middle School received a threat that someone had a gun and was going to shoot people. It was determined that a student's account had been hacked and there was not a threat to students or administrators, Derby principal Celeste Nowicki informed parents in an email. Then on Friday, March 9, a student at Berkshire Middle School made threatening comments to another student that alluded to shooting another student with a gun. School personnel, along with Beverly Hills Department of Public Safety, searched the student, his locker and personal belongings, and reported that no weapons or item of concern was found at school, and the student was suspended.
“At this time working with police, we do not believe that there is any credible threat to our Berkshire students and staff and this matter will continue to be investigated,” principal Jason Clinkscale wrote parents.
“With the Derby cyber threat, we ultimately have not been able to determine who sent it,” Birmingham superintendent Nerad said. “While we believe it was sent in school through a district computer, we're still determining who sent it.”
The district is continuing to investigate the Berkshire threat, and the student remains suspended.
Nerad emphasized that “school security really depends upon a strong partnership with local law enforcement – and we have that with all of our local municipalities (Birmingham, Beverly Hills and West Bloomfield). It's beyond relying – they're side-by-side partners.
“How frightening for everyone, from me to teachers to parents,” he observed of the threats. “In the time we're in, any message that is threatening must be investigated, and it does tug on people's worst fears. And messages using technology complicates things. I was upset, and I could see how upset parents were. In our world, there is plenty of room for differing opinions – but there are more productive ways to air and discuss those differences, and that is what we want to communicate with students. If we are going to be on the front of prevention – working with parents, learning how to deal with differences, character development – we also have to be on the forefront of prevention. So if they have differences, we have to help young people work out those differences in good and just ways.”
Rochester Community Schools had a false alarm threat at Stony Creek High School on March 8, leading to the school being placed on lockdown after a student accidentally initiated a lockdown procedure through the school's public address system, the district said. While they have not shared any other threats, superintendent Dr. Robert Shaner noted that the district “does not tolerate school violence, or threats of school violence, of any kind. In these instances, our schools will take strict and immediate action. Please take this opportunity to treat this event (Stoneman Douglas High School) as a teachable moment with your child. Talk to your son or daughter. They need to understand the consequences that come with making threats of school violence, but they also need to know that they are loved.”
Cranbrook Schools, situated on over 319 acres in Bloomfield Hills, said they have not received any recent threats. “We're an open campus to the public,” acknowledged Cranbrook spokesperson Clay Matthews. “We have a great working relationship with Bloomfield Hills Public Safety Department and with Oakland County Homeland Security, and we developed a map and layout of every building on campus that's a digital tool now, too.”
Calvin Vincent, director of security and safety at Cranbrook, said the open campus is one of the things Cranbrook prides itself on. “There are certain areas that are protected, that the public cannot access, and the schools are at the top of the list. We have video cameras across the entire campus, which give us eyes all over. We make sure our perimeters are secure. And we have security staff,” although he declined to answer if security personel are fully armed.
Detroit Country Day School and The Roeper School declined to participate in this article, and Academy of the Sacred Heart, Brother Rice High School and Orchard Lake St. Mary's did not return repeated calls.
Working with fully armed, full-time police liaison officers from local departments is one aspect of providing security to schools, but hardly the only one. Bouchard said county sheriffs are now in many school districts providing support. Local districts across Oakland County have dug into their general funds or floated bond millages for improvements to safety and security, as Bloomfield Hills Schools is doing at an election in May.
“Through our current bond work, all of our schools have secure front entryways. You must be buzzed into the building, state your purpose, and be routed into the office,” Nerad said of security upgrades that have occurred in Birmingham's schools since the tragedy at Sandy Hook in 2012. “We have a better idea of who is in the building at all times. We have cameras at the high schools (Seaholm and Groves), and at Lincoln Street Alternative Program. We're in the process of reviewing their sufficiency.
“Every time we have an incident (locally, or a nationwide incident), we review our safety plans,” Nerad continued. “These are living, breathing documents. Sadly, you cannot be stuck at where you were when you wrote them. You have to continually revise.”
In addition to school resource officer from Birmingham police and Beverly Hills public safety in the high schools, both Seaholm and Groves have hired unarmed private security guards, as well as staff acting as hall monitors. The officers also cycle through to the middle and elementary schools.
“In addition, we have unannounced perimeter checks six times a year, where we're checking on unlocked doors. The goal is to keep (outside) doors locked,” he said.
Rochester Schools anticipates expending $6 million through a recent bond efforts to enhance student safety and school security. Schools spokesperson Lori Grein said that efforts include redesigning the main building entrances with two sets of vestibule doors, along with a door to the office, and providing staff with a better visitor verification system and building lockdown capabilities.
“Locks that latch from the interior side of the classroom door are being added, and video surveillance cameras are being installed in the schools and on buses. An updated districtwide telephone system and public address (PA) system will also ensure proper notification and warning during an emergency.”
Since bond efforts are scheduled to take place over a five-year time period, until 2020, not all main offices in all schools have been redesigned, but she said that each school has a visitor verification system and staff has been instructed to utilize the updated safety procedures, which include requiring guests to show picture identification and sign in, documenting their name, time in and out, as well as the purpose of their visit. All exterior doors are to be locked throughout the school day, as should interior classroom doors.
“All exits and hallways should be clear of desks, materials and debris so as to allow for a quick exit in the case of an emergency,” Grein said.
“We are fortunate to have a close working relationship with our local law enforcement, security consultants, liaison officers and Oakland County Homeland Security specialists who provide us with the necessary guidance and training in order to prepare for the unthinkable,” she said. “As we review our procedures to determine the best solutions for our district, we rely on this team of experts to share best practices and make recommendations for continuous improvement. For safety reasons, we cannot publicly share specific information about our security tactics.”
Oakland County Sheriffs are school liaisons to the district. “We also utilize the services of security consultants at our high schools,” Grein said, who are contracted through Safe-Ed, and are not armed.
“Safety is a community responsibility, and we have to work together to keep our kids safe,” noted Bloomfield Hills' Good, pointing out they believe the biggest factor in keeping students and staff safe is staying aware of what is going on around them. “In 80 percent of the incidents (in previous shootings), 80 percent of the cases nationwide – no one said anything.
“This is their school, their community. We want students to think about others,” she said, pointing out it's about empathy and taking responsible action.
Royal Oak Superintendent Mary Beth Fitzpatrick agreed. “Students have found trusted adults to be very important,” she said. “That to me, as an educator, goes back to the daily work of relationships, not just in times of crises.”
The new Bloomfield Hills High School was built with new security and technology innovations, and the Bloomfield Township Police Department and Fire Department now utilize it during summers for training. “It allows them to learn the layouts, and we provide them access to maps. So when we say to go to room 204, everyone knows where that is,” Good said. “We looked at the number of ways to get access, and looked at various ways to increase awareness.”
The district is currently requesting a sinking fund millage on Tuesday, May 8, to replace their current one, at the same rate, .7165 mills, in order to incorporate its use for safety, security and technology upgrades after state legislation was recently passed to permit sinking funds to expand their uses in order to have the benefits available from 2018 summer taxes. This will be a six-year sinking fund replacement that would generate $2.5 million each year. Recent state legislation now allows for sinking fund dollars to be utilized for safety, security and technology upgrades, including security cameras, acquisition or upgrades in technology, including wireless technology, Good said.
“We have done all of our security and safety upgrades with general fund dollars or cash-on-hand,” she said.
All of the districts, as required by state law, hold lockdown/shelter in place drills twice a year. According to Michigan State Police, the legislation, Public Acts 187 and 337, requires a minimum of two drills a year for each school year, “in which occupants are restricted to the interior of the building and the building is secured. This must be conducted at all schools that operate any of the grades kindergarten to 12, with security measures that are appropriate to an emergency, such as the release of a hazardous material or the presence of an armed individual on or near the premises.
“This policy is not all-inclusive. We encourage every school administrator to work in coordination with emergency management and emergency responder representatives to build upon these guidelines to strengthen their ability to protect against any threat encountered, whether natural or manmade.”
“We are examining a different model for school lockdown drills with law enforcement,” Nerad said. “They are in the process of determining their recommendations. To us, a new model examines multiple options and allows for evacuations, which is more flexible.
“This whole field is evolving, and we need to evolve with it,” he acknowledged. “We're also going to get input from parents, students and staff.”
Clay Matthews at Cranbrook agreed. “We follow the law for drills here. But we're always evaluating, how do we keep ourselves safe? The thought is not to be afraid, but to be prepared.”
Cranbrook has been rolling out a different program, called the ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) protocol, for the last two years, for an active shooter or terrorist event, which moves away from a lockdown and towards evacuation if possible, or barricading, if necessary, which is in line with some more progressive thinking on active shooting situations in schools.
Calvin Vincent, Cranbrook's security director, acknowledging exterior threats as well as the potential for a cyber threat, echoed others when he said, “A threat is a threat, whether it's internal or external. We're going to check into any threat with as much preparation as any other. The saying, 'See something, say something,' extends to cyber and social media as well.”
Chris Burrows, a cyber expert with Cyber Security Solutions and previously chief informations cyber officer for Oakland County, warned that not all threats are external and visible – but can be just as dangerous. “Thirty-eight percent of children encounter someone pretending to be a kid on gaming platforms, and 23 percent asked for personal information on chats,” he said. “They impersonate someone and ask to meet in person, and it's very dangerous.
“When we were kids, we were told not to talk to strangers,” Burrows pointed out. “But you can be on an app and be anonymous, talking about very personal topics – and people believe you because it's anonymous.”
He emphasized that cyberbullying can cause disaffection and some believe lead to aberrant behavior seen in some of the school shooters.
“Twenty years ago, you'd have to be in the same room. Now, it's in front of everyone, and people believe it,” Burrows noted. “Cyberbullying hurts more than a punch in the nose, which goes away in 20 minutes. Cyberbullying lasts all year and goes on and on.”
Whether from cyberattacks, social media, or overheard conversations, Homeland Security, along with Michigan State Police, have instituted a campaign, “If you see something, say something,” for individuals to report to local law enforcement. It is based on community involvement – that each of us interact with friends, colleagues, neighbors, everyday and are in the best position to notice something small that may be out of the ordinary, or behavior that doesn't seem to sync.
“Informed, alert communities play a critical role in keeping our nation safe,” the Department of Homeland Security states on its web page. “Because only you know what’s supposed to be in your everyday.”
Michigan.gov is using the OK2SAY app, which allows anyone to confidentially report tips on criminal activity or potential harm directed at Michigan students, school employees or schools. Rochester Schools encourages students to submit tips by text, phone or email 24/7.
Each school official supported students and staff “saying something” when they see something amiss.
What school officials unanimously were opposed to were metal detectors in local schools, which are often used in inner city or poorer schools.
“Not on our campus,” said Vincent.
Nerad noted that metal detectors had been suggested by parents and others since the Parkland massacre, “but our approach has always been to look at the next idea to implement by looking to law enforcement for their recommendations. We do not want to do something that gives a false sense of security, though, either.”
Bloomfield Hills' liaison officer Corey Donberger said no to metal detectors, as well. “Before getting in to a school, you can still do a lot of damage. I am already in your building, and they can give a false sense of security. Studies show that metal detectors don't keep kids safe – and they're a logistical nightmare.”
“It's not something we're doing right now. We have other protocols we're doing that we feel are better,” said Royal Oak's Fitzpatrick. “We're using existing surveillance cameras, key fobs to get in and we have to swipe our badges, data is tracked. Metal detectors would have to be really vetted as the best use of our time for us to use them.”
The idea of arming teachers, advocated by President Trump, is not one that appears to have a lot of local support, despite the proposed legislation by Michigan state Rep. Jim Runestad (R-White Lake).
“That is not something we would support in the district,” Fitzpatrick said. “The board has made it clear that our schools are a weapons-free zone.”
“The district standpoint is that schools should be weapons-free zones,” said Bloomfield Hills' Good. “Our board passed a resolution on February 15, 2018, opposing the proposed concealed carry legislation. They maintain that schools should be a weapons-free zone.”
“I know there are differing opinions. My personal opinion is the only individuals who should have possession of weapons on school grounds is law enforcement,” Birmingham superintendent Nerad said. “You have to look at the risk of having them schools, and having them properly trained. The good news is we are having the conversation.
“From my informal discussions, most do not want to have them.”
However, the change in gun laws, especially on a federal level, does concern Nerad. “There is the temptation to just react. The best laws are done by local units of government,” he said.
“This should play out with local discussions with local legislators, that they can take back to the state legislature,” he continued. “I want them to consider our local needs.”
An Ohio foundation, Faster Saves Lives, has had success training and arming educators who have concealed weapons licenses.
“Statistically, schools, churches – mass casualty events, which are no gun zones – the perpetrator knows they're going to go there, people are packed in and nothing is going to stop them. Every few seconds someone is dying. They're done in five minutes or so. If the response time for police is three to four minutes – which isn't bad – a lot of people are dead by then,” said Faster Saves Lives executive director Dean Rieck.
He said they started the program in 2012 after Sandy Hook. “We knew some guy who trains SWAT and police who could put 24 teachers through that kind of training for $800 to $1,000 per person. We paid for it from our foundation,” he said, which is the Buckeye Firearms Foundation.
While there was outcry from gun control advocates, “within days, we had 1,000 teachers and staff from all over Ohio sign up. We tried it, and it was successful. We continued and improved for five years. To date, we trained 1,300 teachers and staff from 225 districts across 12 states, all paid for by our foundation,” Rieck said.
Following the Parkland shooting, he said they have had at least 10 people a day signing up for training.
“We're not trying to turn teachers into cops,” he said. “We're teaching two things – one, how to stop the killing; and two, how to stop the bleeding. This is not ordinary shooting training like at a gun range. Anyone applying must already have a concealed handgun license and be approved for background checks.”
He said the main class is three grueling days. “Then you have to go through a shoot that is higher than the police academy.”
Next, they offer medical training – tactical combat casualty care – not to learn to be a doctor, but to staunch the bleeding with tourniquets, bandages and chest seals.
“We teach them emergency trauma care because people can bleed out and die quickly,” Rieck said. “School districts tend to keep security measures secret. But, they keep it so secret no one knows anything, giving any advantage to anyone who comes in the building. Now school districts are coming to us because this can happen anywhere – rich districts, poor districts. You want to have as much security as possible. It's based on the concept of concealed carry, which is proven to work in all 50 states. It's an option for school districts who want it.”
Mike Dorn, executive director of Safe Havens, the largest school safety consultants, headquartered in Macon, Georgia, is on his 13th active shooter caseload, is the former police chief of Macon County, and has keynoted with Michigan State Police six times, disagrees with Rieck.
“In testing, what we found is teachers will leave their students and they'll attack anyone with a gun. If we depict a drunk across the street with a gun, over 25 percent in testing will leave their students and go 75 yards away and go attack him. Someone taking hostages with a gun, they'll attack at a much higher rate,” he said. “The data says for every active shooter, you're dealing with a drunk mother in the office with a screwdriver.”
He noted the probability of a suicide is a much higher likelihood than an active shooter situation – eight times more likely.
“There's so much fear out there. Research shows that the ‘Terror Management Theory,' or the greater the catastrophe, the more bizarre an event, the more likely people think it will happen to them,” he said. “An example was the Aurora theater shooting, when this crazy guy dressed up in tactical clothing like a villain in the Batman movie. There have been gang and domestic shootings at theaters – but only after Aurora did we get police in theaters.
“We ignore the more common shootings to focus on the anomaly,” he pointed out. “We are ignoring the proven strategies and techniques that have helped prevent attacks, and focusing on throwing books at a guy shooting, rather than prevention methods. There is lots of made up data out there.”
Dr. Amy Klinger, founder and director of programs for Educators School Safety Network, said they advocate to have all educators in a school be trained for all kinds of hazards, not just for a school shooting.
“We're looking at all hazards, not just for active shooters to the exclusion of all others. Teachers need to be prepared to deal with the death of a student or teacher, a non-custodial parent situation, a medical emergency, accident, a tornado,” she said. “We look comprehensively at all hazards, and not just from the law enforcement point of view. We also are taking an emphasis on violence prevention, not just on response. It's not inevitable that all events will happen. We teach threat assessment management, which is a school-based team investigative approach, which looks at how to identify who educators should be concerned about, how to manage that individual, how can we support an intervention. Sometimes it's in the justice system, but not always. Often it's with mental health care. It's looking at risk assessment – who may be at risk to themselves and others – the next suicide, murder, drug overdose. It's not political, and it's very effective and very cost effective.
“No one wants kids dying in school.”
Dorn agrees, advocating a multidisciplinary effort involving law enforcement, mental health workers and educators acting as a team evaluating someone if they may have made a threat, addressing whether or not they actually pose a threat to others or to themselves. “And how do we best manage that threat,” he said.
He said in the 13 cases he has worked on, there were missed opportunities to prevent the attacks. As police chief, he noted, “We stopped 13 planned attacks, a planned bombing, five attempts with loaded guns at elementary schools, and stopped a series of attacks at the high school and middle schools, and at basketball games.
“When people are saying there's nothing we can do to stop this, that's a dangerous mindset. Let's not spend 90 percent of the energy on reacting to an attack – because a majority of them can be stopped.”
He advises school districts to look at things more holistically. “Before I'd put more law enforcement in, I'd add a school nurse. There's more medical emergencies.”
That coincides with Klinger's thinking.
“If a kid is killed by a bus accident in a parking lot or anaphylactic shock, isn't it as tragic as being shot?” she asked.
The story has been edited to reflect the following changes: Rep. Robert Wittenberg, in a subsequent conversation, said that he was promised a “meeting” with Rep. Runestad for discussion of the “red flag” bills but was not promised a committee hearing on his proposed legislation, as our story first suggested. So we have acknowledged a misquote and willingly made the correction to our earlier version. The meeting with Runestad has taken place. We have also edited this version to reflect that Runestad was considering his own proposal to arm select teachers in schools, as opposed to having actually introduced a bill. While Runestad has been quoted in a variety of Michigan and national publications promoting his own bill to arm some teachers as a protection measure, the bill has yet to be introduced.