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2018-02-21 / Featured / Front Page

School officials, police respond to Florida shooting

BY RICH GRISET STAFF WRITER

Just one day after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Chesterfield County Public Schools issued a memo to staff members and students’ parents, outlining its own ongoing safety efforts.

Every county school has its own critical incident and emergency management plan, which is revised annually, it states. Trainings and drills take place throughout the year, and CCPS partnered with first responders to conduct an active shooter response drill in 2017.

Identification badges are required for school visitors, issued after that visitor has provided a driver’s license and is checked against the state’s sex offender registry. Elementary and middle school entrances are locked; visitors must ring a doorbell and be viewed by camera before being buzzed in by an office worker. Chesterfield’s high schools will add the system this year.

The memo is further proof of how much things have changed since 1999, when the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado that left 13 dead was seen as an anomaly. Now, deadly mass shootings in schools and other public spaces seem like a new normal. In the age of Columbine, most school systems and experts advocated going into lockdown in the event of an incident: lock the doors, turn off the lights, hide and wait for law enforcement to arrive. Today, many school systems – including Chesterfield’s – consider lockdown one option in dealing with an active shooter.

Via email, school spokesman Shawn Smith explained that CCPS uses what it calls the ALARM protocol to respond to active shooter and intruder incidents. The response plan states that “if escape is possible, run for safety and move away from the attack,” but that “if escape is not feasible, lockdown in a secured room by barricading doors and windows.”

“The current best practice is the ‘Run, hide and fight.’ Whatever the best option is available,” explains Maj. David Shand, uniform operations bureau commander with the Chesterfield County Police Department. “It’s a little more fluid than it used to be.”

Police have also changed how they respond to mass shooting incidents. Previously, when taking hostages was more common, law enforcement would begin with containment, creating a perimeter and setting up a command structure. The hope was that the gunman would negotiate with police and surrender. Officers who arrive first on scene today are expected to head into an active shooter situation without waiting for backup, hopefully stopping the shooter before more lives are lost. “There is to be no undue delay in making an entrance and ending the threat,” Shand says.

Should an incident take place in Chesterfield, Shand says the school resource officer would likely be the first one on the scene. “We’re in a fortunate position in Chesterfield to have a school resource officer in every middle school and high school, and some of the biggest high schools have two,” says Shand, adding that officers also conduct routine patrols of elementary schools.

All CCPD officers learn to respond to active shooter incidents at the academy, he says, and brush up on their knowledge at annual in-service trainings. The department also uses vacant facilities in the county for real-time trainings, and has even conducted a simulation at Chesterfield Towne Center.

Additionally, the police department must assess reports of threats, including one that took place last week at Clover Hill High. Rumors circulated that a shooting would take place at the school, but police determined that no such threat was ever made.

As for last week’s shooting in Florida, Shand says it seems that the school did what it could to minimize casualties.

“Looking at the stories coming out of Florida, there were a lot of things that were done right, as far as individual teachers acting, barricading in place,” Shand says. “It’s a sad, unfortunate tragedy.” ¦

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