By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
TRENTON – Stopping incidents before they happen, closing safety gaps, and protecting and empowering people in an active shooter situation were candidly addressed April 24 at Trenton High School.
Director of Police and Fire Services Steven Voss, Trenton Public Schools Supt. Rod Wakeham, and School Resource Officer Jake Davis outlined specific plans and protocols, while Emergency Management Coordinator Paul Haley and Police Chief Todd Scheffler were available to answer audience questions.
Wakeham said when most of the district’s schools were built prior to the 1970s, the district didn’t have the security concerns districts face today. Offices were information centers for students and staff, instead of conduits to the outside world. School buildings also had numerous entrance and exit points, allowing users to take a “path of least resistance.”
He said part of the focus of a 2008 bond was building security, and addressed the school security issues of the era, including the replacement of 270 exterior doors in schools throughout the district.
“The whole idea was for people to get in and out of the building quickly,” Wakeham said. “It wasn’t necessary to look at some of the security concerns that we have right now.”
There were also main offices that could only be reached from inside the building, and served as a secondary destination; some were not even on the entry floor.
When the exterior school doors were replaced, access was limited to card readers at the main entrance, and external door keys were almost entirely eliminated. Access to offices have a double door vestibule, so there is an extra set of doors to screen visitors.
In addition, 80 network security cameras were installed to monitor activity in and out of each access point. Some are activated by motion sensors, and when one is activated, data from the event is captured, which allows school personnel to track when and where a person gains access to a building or has left a building, and can also capture an image of the person who triggered the sensor.
Visitors are issued badges, staff badges are building-specific, and missing badges can be quickly deactivated, provided the loss is reported.
Last spring, a 911 enhanced phone system was installed that automatically provides dispatchers with the detailed location of school emergency callers, to the classroom level.
“We provided digital building layouts for the Trenton Police and the Trenton Police departments, with the SRO, has access to our district video system,” Wakeham said.
The impact of the proactive support programs, to try to address and identify student issues before they become a problem, are more difficult to measure objectively, Wakeham said.
Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support, a way for schools to encourage good behavior, is supported in each school building, Wakeham said.
He said the middle school uses “Where Everyone Belongs” leaders, a transition program which uses student leaders to guide younger students to help them successfully transition to middle school, the middle and high schools have small group meetings to address student issues, and the high school uses student mentors to acclimate new students.
He said they have also had anti-bullying programs at all grade levels for many years.
“We didn’t feel that something like bullying or negative social behavior was something they were going to be able to eliminate in one year, but we feel if we have it continuously through the years it will have a positive impact on our students as they move on through our system,” Wakeham said.
Wakeham said the district has four social workers, one for each school, which was made possible in part by state of Michigan At-Risk funding and enhanced millage money.
He said after 2012, when the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting occurred, the high school reduced its entry points from seven to three.
Wakeham said future plans include limiting school office access, based on the recommendations of security experts. Electronic locks, with buzzers and intercom access, are being considered, along with emergency lock-down points.
Voss said the SRO has been very beneficial.
“The most crucial part of the school resource officer to us is to provide safety, but not so much as everybody thinks of it,” Voss said. “They think of the safety on site, the officer in the school. But the reality of the situation is that Officer Davis’ job is to stop these incidents before they happen, by basically being in the school, getting to know the children, so we know the at-risk children, that he could offer some help to.”
Voss said three years ago the Downriver Mutual Aid Special Weapons and Tactics team started active shooter training for all uniformed officers. He said school staff has been involved in training to an extent that they would know what a situation might look like.
“As bad as it may sound, we even train the students, for their own safety,” Voss said. “If, in fact, something like this was to happen, it’s how we save the most people. I don’t even like saying that, but that’s the reality.”
He also said that the reason marked patrol cars are often in front of the schools at the start and the end of the school day is to act as a deterrent, and not to write tickets.
“The thought process was if somebody wants to harm someone, they are more than likely not going to do it if there is a marked patrol car there,” Voss said.
Davis explained ALICE, active shooter civilian response training, which incorporates five elements: Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate. He said the strategies increase the chances for survival in an active shooter situation, especially during the initial five to six minutes until law enforcement personnel arrive on site.
Davis said when a threat is first identified, as much information as quickly as possible is needed. Then enhanced lockdown and barricades gain as much time as possible.
Davis added that countering is not fighting back, which is a last resort.
“’Counter’ is teaching these kids and the staff to do whatever they have to do to save their own lives,” Davis said. “We are talking about teaching age and ability appropriate stuff.”
He said one strategy is to cause a distraction long enough to get as many people as possible out of danger. Elementary age students would be instructed on how to use noise and movement to escape.
“If any of you guys have ever heard a bunch of elementary school kids screaming and running around a room, believe me, if is very distracting,” Davis said. “Our goal here is to save as many people as we can.”
Davis said in a worse-case scenario, the preferred response to an active shooter is to have no one left in the building for him to shoot.
He said it is important for students to be able to think for themselves and to be aware of their surroundings.
“This is a paradigm shift from a passive response to a proactive strategy,” Davis said. “This is empowering the staff and the students to make decisions based on their own situation, and it is giving them permission to do whatever they have to do to save their own lives.”
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at [email protected])