Hillsborough County School Board gets a lesson from Tampa Police in preventing school shootings

03/19/13 Janelle Irwin
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It’s been three months since the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting that claimed the lives of 20 first graders but the tragedy is still fresh on the minds of Hillsborough County school officials. During a school board workshop Tuesday, the Tampa Police Department shared a graphic police training video.

Sorrowful music played over a series of photos from various school shootings. That includes images of the Columbine High School gunmen dead in a pool of their own blood. Tampa Police training specialist Jared Douds told school board members they need to accept the harsh reality that these tragedies will happen again. He compared the need for emergency training to fire drills in schools.

"We still train and practice and prepare for these things on a regular basis. If somebody came in here and said 'listen, we haven't lost any kids in 50 to 60 years to these things so let's do 10 percent less fire drills. Let's take 10 percent of the fire extinguishers out of there, we're not using them anyway.' People would probably lose their minds over that, and rightfully so."

Douds also speculated about the mindset of a mass killer – they usually carry multiple weapons and are on a suicide mission, making the window of opportunity to stop them from killing very narrow. He said arming school employees may not be the answer for Hillsborough County, but it worked in Israel where teachers were armed.

"That was originally what the Hamas terrorists used to do with Israel. They would simply send somebody in with a rifle, they would shoot up a bunch of kids and walk back out. High body count strikes fear into the heart of that nation like absolutely nothing else. As a result Israel took a different path about training and arming teachers and their general populace and as a result of that the mass shootings started to go down."

Douds also referenced incidents that had less media exposure because they weren’t considered mass shootings. In many of those instances, Douds said the shooter was stopped from killing or injuring more people by armed bystanders. One example was in 2007 at a mall where 5 people including the gunman were killed.

"There was an off duty officer that was there having dinner with his wife. As he was there having dinner an individual walks in with a shotgun into that mall and begins to shoot people. Kills five or six. The officer that's off-duty hears those shots. He was carrying his gun off-duty, thank goodness. He immediately parts from his wife, makes sure that she gets on the phone with 911, gives a vivid description of what he's wearing, who he is and what he's doing so the other responding officers don't think he's the bad guy. He draws his weapon, he goes to the gun shots, he actually confronts the bad guy, trades shots with him, actually gets the offender pinned into a store and then on-duty officers come in the back and end up taking him out. Good success story there."

Most middle and high schools in Hillsborough County have either Tampa Police officers or sheriff’s deputies on duty. Elementary schools are the exception. The idea of arming teachers or putting armed officers in elementary schools is controversial. Even though doing that was never specifically suggested by Tampa Police’s Douds, school board member Doretha Edgecomb asked how to convince critics that it is in students best interest to be protected by guns.

"Some parents who say, 'I don't want people in our school security or resource officers because I still want my kids to be in schools where they feel that it's kind of a different world. The kind, the pristine world in which some of us lived in and grew up in.' To those of us who understand the importance of having...you call it 'secure democratic security and safety measures' so how do we get the public to understand that some of this is absolutely essential, that we are trying to protect the innocence of our students."

Other ideas were batted around like making sure school lockdown procedures are in place and that police agencies had updated floor plans of schools so they knew where to go in an emergency. Hillsborough County School Board member Candy Olson added that every adult who deals with students should be trained on what warning signs to look for that might suggest a student is planning an attack.

"I think that preparation is important. The awareness that it can happen and the awareness on the part of every adult in the school because we don't know who a kid is going to talk to."

Olson referenced the 2011 arrest of Jared Cano who was allegedly plotting an attack at Freedom High School in north Tampa. Police were given a tip in that cast that led to the arrest. The Hillsborough County School Board will meet again next week for another school security workshop.

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