Police prepared, drills scheduled in wake of Florida shooting

by PCHS Eagle’s Cry staff

The nation was shocked on Valentine’s Day by the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook in 2012. Nineteen-year-old Nikolas Cruz attacked Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where he killed 14 students and 3 teachers and injured 14 others with a semiautomatic rifle. Cruz had been previously expelled from the same school for disciplinary reasons. After concealing himself among the fleeing crowd, he was later caught by police and has now been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder.

It has also been revealed that the FBI had received tips about how the shooter could be dangerous, yet never contacted Cruz related to those tips. Cruz had posted disturbing and violent content on social media, and several students said afterward that he seemed dangerous and was known as a loner. While President Donald Trump has condemned the shooting, this has also revived the discussion of gun control, as many people, including students from Parkland, are calling for the government to create tighter gun control laws.

This shooting has also brought up the question of how prepared schools and communities are. According to the Center for Disease Control, 90% of public schools have a written plan for a school shooting and 70% of those schools drilled students on the plan. Here at PCHS, students have begun wondering these questions about their own school. Is PC prepared for a possible school shooting?

PC teachers took part in the ALICE: Active Shooter Response program to prepare themselves in the fall of 2016. “We had the police come to the school and do a demonstration of what teachers should do in that situation,” said Engbers.

The main goal of ALICE is to slow the shooter down and minimize the casualties. “The policy is that we should be prepared to throw things at the shooter if he or she enters room and get out as soon as possible,” said Engbers. “You should never pick up the gun during a shooting, even if you want to hide it, because the police officers are searching for a person with a gun. The best way is to put an upside down trash can over the gun.”

Drills could be a way for students and teachers to prepare themselves, but there are pros and cons when it comes to doing drills, because drills can show a potential student shooter the process, which they can use to their advantage. “It is a good idea to start doing drills for this scenario like we do for fires and tornados,” said Engbers. “However, there are some concerns with that, because it might end up being a Catch-22 situation. But it is important to discuss this issue.”

Principal Dan Van Kooten has decided to take action about doing drills. “It is good for everyone to practice just like for fires and tornados,” said Van Kooten. “With the Pella Police Department’s help again, we are scheduling a training here for this spring that will involve a presentation and then a drill.”

Two-thirds of  staff members at PC indicated on a recent poll that they feel somewhat prepared and have a strategy planned out in the event of a school shooting.  They would call 911, evacuate, lockdown the school, or distract the shooter.  A common desire several teachers noted is simply to protect their students. “I would make sure my students are safe – lock a door between us and the shooter or try to get out of the building, whichever makes more sense,” said one faculty member.

Over 80% of the faculty don’t think students are prepared for a school shooting and think that drills would be beneficial. “We should have a metal detector at the entrance as well as educate teachers, staff, and students on what to do if there is a shooter in the building and have regular drills to practice,” said one member of the staff.

Despite the lack of drills, many staff members feel safe at PC. They feel secure because of the school’s locked doors and the closeness of their PC community–they feel they know their students well.  “I think we have things in place to help identify students who might struggle. We have prayers of our community protecting us. We don’t neglect the spiritual aspect of a student,” said a staff member.

Some ideas teachers have to improve safety at PC are arming teachers as a deterrent, having a psychologist on campus, and encouraging a community where people look out for each other. “People have to speak up and out if they see warning signs or concerning comments or remarks,” said one faculty member.

The thought of a school shooting at PCHS leaves 45% of students feeling “not prepared at all” for this type of situation. Students have a plethora of ideas about what they would do in a threatening situation like this, including running, praying, hiding and attacking. “I would probably either hide or just up and run for an exit. Our school hasn’t really prepared us for a situation like this, so it makes me wonder, would they even be prepared to guide us through a school shooting?” wondered one sophomore.

Almost eighty percent of the student body agrees that drills would be helpful to educate the students what to do if a school shooting occurred. While most agree that drills would make them feel more comfortable, a number of students also say that having staff carry guns would also make them feel better. “Have the staff carry, especially people with offices in the front of the school. Or at least a firearm in all rooms of the school,” said another sophomore.

With talk of precaution and the worst case scenario, over half of the student body does feel “very safe” within the walls of PCHS. With the common assessment that Pella is a “safe town,” still a majority of students owe their sense of security to PC’s locked doors and security cameras.

On the other side, some students commented that attending a Christian school in a low-crime town puts even more of a target on our backs. Armed intruders, especially students, could get into the school if they had to. “You can’t just count on us living in a relatively ‘safe town.’ You never know what could happen,” one student commented. “It is as easy as breaking a window open and entering with a gun.”

The sense students have of living in a “safe town” is owed, in large part, to the hard work of the Pella Police Department.  According to Pella Police Chief Robert Bokinsky, Pella has eight schools, and it is the police department’s duty to be prepared to respond and handle such events. “A situation like the one occurring in (Parkland, Florida) is an obvious worst case scenario for any police department, school or community,” said Bokinsky.

Every member of the police staff has classroom and practical training on the tactical response to an active shooter event. Which they fine tune several times each year. Designated members have received advanced training in these areas and share their expertise with their colleagues.

One form of training the Pella Police Department offers is ALICE,  training for students, faculty, office workers, and anyone who could be placed in an active shooter situation. ALICE provides potential victims of active shooter incidents with a plan of action before the event actually occurs. It stands for Alert, Locate, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate.

Maintaining an effective measure of vigilance and keeping an open line of communication with the Pella Police Department is key, according to Bokinsky.  “As long as students and faculty follow the ‘see something, say something’ maxim, the police can launch their investigations and get to the bottom of things–without revealing who disclosed the information.  Bringing information after the crime is too late.  Students and faculty alike must come forward and report persons who are potential threats,” he said.  

Students, former students, estranged parents, teachers, etc.. may be perceived as a possible threat because of alarming things they have said, written, or posted on social media. They could also be someone who is disconnected socially or bullied. Bokinsky encourages anyone who sees a possible threat to bring it to the immediate attention of the police department. “There is a connection between the shooter and his victims, and in every instance there were people who failed to bring the information forward until after the crime,” he said.

Bokinsky emphasizes that it is better to take action and be wrong then to sit back and allow an incident such as the one in Florida. “It is far better to allow the police to check out suspicious persons, even if they are cleared, than to let one potential killer visit violence on an innocent student body,” commented Bokinsky.

He also stressed the importance of making these reports to the local police departments. According to Bokinsky, the FBI “botched” the pre-event intelligence in the Marjory Stoneman HS shooting, and now 17 people are dead. “If that information had been reported to the local police, it would have been addressed immediately, and a horrible incident could have been prevented.”

Ultimately, even though we can work endlessly to try to prevent violent acts, some PC teachers stated that we must remember that we live in a fallen and sinful world. “No school or workplace is completely safe,” noted one teacher. “I choose not to live in fear.”

Bokinsky agrees. “No need for us to live our lives in fear. Simply remain vigilant. Enjoy life, enjoy school, enjoy your family, enjoy PCHS basketball, and always crash the boards.  Just be sure to keep your eyes open, say something to the local police when your suspicions are aroused, and have a plan.”

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