Information may be key to halt school shootings; police find SL schools to be safe as any in the nation
When Storm Lake Police Chief Mark Prosser sees reports of threatened school massacres in small areas, he remembers Storm Lake is not exempt from the possibility of it happening here. He believes area schools are as safe as any in the country, saying there is no way to predict school violence. He urges people to take seriously and report any threats heard from students.
"In all the cases (of school shootings) there was information given," Prosser said. "The shooters sent up flags, gave signs and signals in advance of the act. If students hear someone threatening to do something, they need to report it to the administration or to law enforcement."
The most recent instances are no exception. Last week in Riverton, Kan., five teenage boys were arrested for allegedly planning a shooting rampage at their high school. The would-be shooters announced the plan on the web site MySpace.com. Authorities found guns, ammunition, knives and coded messages in the bedroom of one of the suspects. Also last week six seventh graders attending North Pole Middle School in North Pole, Alaska were arrested for a similar plot. The students could face charges of first degree conspiracy to commit murder.
While Prosser says the department works to keep lines of communication opened between officers and school administration, and the department's tactical team trains to respond to emergencies in local schools, prevention is the ultimate goal.
The Storm Lake district has a crisis plan in place if something should happen, Prosser said. Storm Lake has four six public schools, two parochial schools, a community college and a university, as well as large businesses, all of which Prosser and his team spend time planning to aid in the event of violence.
Prosser says law enforcement has learned a lot of hard lessons from the 1999 shooting spree at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. where two students killed 13 people before committing suicide. Last week was the seventh anniversary of the shootings. April 20, the day of the shootings, is Adolph Hitler's birthday.
"Law enforcement officers have to prepare and react quicker," Prosser said, relaying some of the lessons from Columbine. "Police used to take a wait and see approach. That is no longer the case."
Prosser also recommends people plan what they would do if they were caught in a bad situation prior to an event taking place.
"We recommend people follow their instincts to remove themselves from a threat and get to safety," Prosser says. "People should think about it once in a while. If this were to happen, what would I do? People react better to a crisis if they have thought about it."
Principal Rose Davis of St. Mary's High School thinks about school shootings quite a bit.
"All schools go to great lengths to make their buildings safer," she said. "We all have crisis plans in place and we all practice them."
Davis said the schools' police liaison officer has been invaluable in helping to form the emergency plans, as well as communicating with the students and parents.
Teachers at the Catholic high school also undergo special training called VIRTUS, which trains them to spot perpetrators, abuse, and violence among students.
"This is a small school," Davis said. "With only 275 people, we can keep a close eye on the kids."
She also said with the school's dress code, students really can't hide anything on their person.
To cement the lessons learned, the police have a two hour training session for teachers each year which discusses trends in juvenile crime. "We in law enforcement consider our schools to be sanctuaries," Prosser said. "We do everything we can to make them safe environments where students can go to learn and not have to worry about violence."