Schools are perceived as a safe place for kids, though few have security measures in place to defend against violence like what happened at Sandy Hook School. The mass shooting at the Connecticut elementary school Friday morning horrified the nation and left parents questioning how they can protect their children.
Twenty-seven people were killed—the majority of them children between the ages of 5 and 10—at the elementary school in Newtown, Conn. The violence is the second deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, second only to the Virginia Tech slaying of 32 in 2007.
When violence erupted Friday morning at Sandy Hook, the school went on "lockdown," according to media reports. That means teachers and staff locked students inside classrooms rather than risk evacuation.
That response, according to Lt. Jeff Taylor, of Rohnert Park Public Safety, reflects local policy as well, here called "locked in place."
"Each and every [teacher] is trained so if something dangerous happens like that, they immediately get all students away from the window, lock the door and barricade," he said. The policy is to "keep everybody safe, don't let anybody in."
Taylor emphasized that parents and students both should "know your school's policy. If they have a collection point or a meeting point, you're going to get the best information there."
"We take our responsibility of providing a safe learning environment very seriously and we do all that we can to protect the children in our care," said Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District superintendent Robert A. Haley. "We discuss our safety plans and practice our safety drills regularly.
"We emphasize that in fluid situations the best thing one can do is exercise good judgment."
The 1999 Columbine school shootings in Littleton, Colo., was cited by Taylor as a watershed event in public safety response nation-wide. "Law enforcement has moved away from securing the area and calling a SWAT team, to immediate response of what we call 'active shooters.' So if there's an immediate threat in any kind of business or school, law enforcement doesn't hesitate. As soon as we can team up with another officer we run in there. '
The "active shooter training" is a national protocol for emergency response, which Taylor likened to the field sobriety test in its standardization, using the same guidelines and consistent training.
"For example, here in our community [Rohnert Park], if the closest officer is a Cotati police officer or a Sonoma State police officer, they've been trained on the same active shooter strategy. So if one of my beat officers were to respond, and he's backed up by a Cotati officer, the two of them could go in [with] the same tactics."
Although the area has not had a tragic school or business shooting, there was a recent close call, when in March 2009 a false report of an armed man on the campus of Rancho Cotate High School led to a real response. It proved to be an "eye-opener" for local police and schools, giving them a chance to work through their planned response in what turned out to be a non-emergency situation.
"We worked out some bugs," said Taylor. "Hopefully we never have to do it again, but we're all on the same page."
"In any situation parents should act in the same judicious manner so that all children are kept as safe as possible," said Superintendent Haley. "Cooperating with school officials and law enforcement is critical.
"One of the important things to keep in mind is making sure we can account for all children so check-out procedures are a necessity. We value the supportive relationship with Rohnert Park Public Safety and consider them partners in our mission of keeping children safe."
The Sandy Hook shooting also has pushed gun control into the national spotlight again. Since the so-called "Columbine Massacre" in April, 1999, that killed 13, there have been 31 school shootings in the U.S., and several more workplace and public place shooting sprees, according to a list on thinkprogress.com. This is the second public mass shooting this week, following Tuesday's shooting at the Clackamas Town Center in Oregon, and the eighth this year.
Sen. Leland Yee, a Democrat from San Francisco/San Mateo who has been an advocate for stricter bans on assault rifles in California, sent condolences to the children and families of Newtown.
“In a year with so many appalling acts of gun violence, this is the most shocking of such tragedies," Yee said in a prepared statement. "While we do not have all the details behind this senseless and unconscionable massacre, it is a sad and horrific reminder of what is possible when guns get into the wrong hands. We must limit access to weapons that can result in such catastrophe and mass murder.”
Lt. Taylor pointed out that active shooter scenarios are not solely monopolized by schools. Workplaces, disgruntled employees, government building are other places of risk.
"They're a mental health issue in most cases," he said of the perpetrators in these scenario. "You look for signs, but they have to be specific … If you see someone amassing weapons or something like that, it's a no brainer."
But he did point out that the collection of firearms comes with a caveat. " They have to be illegal guns," he said. "You can't violate someone's civil rights on a hunch."
More coverage on Newtown Patch:
- Patch Exclusive: 'It Wasn't Me' Man Named as Shooter Writes
- Report: Gunman's Mother Was Target and School's Kindergarten Teacher
- Reaction: Sandy Hook School Shooting
- Police Raid Sandy Hook Home Hours After Shooting