“As we all know, there have been some incidents within the last few weeks that have changed the way we view school safety,” said Interim Chief of Police Steve Johnson. “It really shocked to the core what can occur in a community.”
Johnson along with community members took the chance to discuss potential security changes throughout the district during a joint meeting last week between the School Board and City Council.
“I want to stress this right now that it’s a very critical issue. We’re parents, brothers, sisters, and grandparents, and it hits our heart and soul,” said Johnson. “There’s no absolute way to fix everything, and nothing’s perfect, but we’re going to do what we can.”
Johnson explained the police and fire department’s goals to work with the school district to complete a thorough assessment of the school’s and police department’s safety procedures within the next 120 days. He also stressed the need to assess their current training and ability to respond to a ‘dynamic threat,’ such as a shooter in the community or at a school. Within 120 days the department will also assess the equipment needed to handle such threats and will work with neighboring agencies to share equipment and information.
“We have pistols, we have shotguns, we have rifles— does that solve everything?” Johnson asked. “Absolutely not… [We need] to communicate. I’m a firm believer that when you need radio systems the most they break down the quickest. We must understand too that if we need help there’s a time factor. If we had something happen we would undoubtedly get immediate return from other officers and communities—however, there’s still a time lag.”
The Hermosa police department has already sent five officers to dynamic threat-training classes and has scheduled more training classes in the near future. According to Johnson, the fire department and police regularly train their employees to handle incidents including violent behavior, natural disasters, traffic collisions, terrorism and biohazards.
“We want to work with school staff to train and seek their input regarding any concerns,” said Johnson. “And review policies… and make recommendations regarding the hardening of buildings.”
He suggested installing bollards around the schools to detour vehicles from driving into the buildings and improve communication systems between teachers and the emergency responders by installing a specialized system that doesn’t rely on radios. He also suggested having school-wide exercises in response to a dynamic threat to make sure school employees know how to respond to a dangerous situation.
“I don’t want to have a real situation and people don’t know what to do,” said Johnson. “That’s when people get harmed… I’d rather learn from mistakes when nobody is harmed rather than [from when] we have to deal with an issue.”
Currently the police department has been stepping up a police presence around the schools.
“We want people to see them out there,” Johnson said.
Councilmember Peter Tucker expressed his amazement at the school’s openness and lack of fencing.
“Somebody could probably drive a vehicle through any of the fences we have now,” said Tucker. “Or probably a skateboarder really.”
He suggested sharing the costs of upgrades with the schools because city events are often held in the buildings.
“Obviously the game’s changed and we have to do things differently,” school board member Jack Burns said. “We’ve gone to the Office of Public Schools and different departments asking what the new regulations, recommendations and guidelines are… before we can jump into something we have to make sure we’re allowed to do it.”
Burns suggested immediately replacing some unsafe doors and installing barricades around the school where people could hide. He also mentioned possibly installing bulletproof glass, but acknowledged that installing that everywhere might be unrealistic.
“That’s where we need to turn to the experts and see what makes sense and what doesn’t make sense,” Burns said.
A public school site council meeting will be held at Hermosa View Feb. 4 to review the current facilities plan.