Janesville officials announce plan to install police radios in every school
JANESVILLE Shortly after the news broke about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Karen Schulte’s phone rang.
It was Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore checking in to see how the district was responding to the terrifying news.
“I can’t tell you how much I appreciated that call,” said Schulte, the Janesville School District administrator.
One week later, the two announced a plan they think is the “next best thing” to having armed police officers in every school.
The police department, the school district and the Rock County Communications Center unveiled “Operation Direct Connect” at a press conference Friday.
The police department and school district will install police radios in each of the district’s 20 schools. The radios will allow school officials to bypass 911 and directly alert police of emergencies.
The measure could shave “a few seconds to a couple minutes” off the time it would take to get officers in the building in the event of a shooting or other dangerous incident, said Kathy Sukus, interim director of the county’s 911 center.
Dispatchers at the 911 center are experts at gathering information and sharing it with emergency responders, but it takes time, Sukus said. Dispatchers must twice verify addresses before dispatching police.
A dispatcher can’t immediately pinpoint an address when a call comes from a cellphone, Sukus said. The dispatcher would have that information if a school official calls from a police radio, she said.
Callers with high levels of anxiety can increase response times, she said. With the radio system, patrol officers immediately could start moving toward an emergency rather than waiting for a dispatcher to translate the message, she said.
“Instead of one set of ears hearing a caller, you would have 12 sets of ears hearing a caller,” Sukus said.
Once the initial radio call is made, school officials would be expected to call 911 and continue working with dispatchers to provide more information, Moore said.
The police department and school district will split the estimated $20,000 to buy the radios, Moore said. The department will use money left over from a recent radio upgrade, Moore said.
Officers will train select school officials to use the radios properly, he said.
The radios are to be used for dire emergencies only, Moore said. They are not to be used for medical emergencies or incidents involving unruly students.
Janesville police officers take part in active shooter training as often as four times per year, Moore said. The training takes place in hospitals, theaters and the Rock County Courthouse. Most often, it is done in schools, he said.
Janesville officers train with sheriff’s deputies and officers from other local agencies, said officer Rick Mussey, who coordinates training sessions.
“We already do more (active shooter trainings) than any other department I know,” he said.
Mussey is the police liaison officer at Edison Middle School. The department has an officer at each of the district’s two high schools and three middle schools.
Those officers’ faces are familiar in the elementary schools, as well, Schulte said. They often are called into the elementary schools when police services are needed, she said.
Moore was blunt when asked why police and the schools think police radios are a better solution than putting armed officers in every school building.
“Cost,” Moore said. “We just don’t have those officers. We are trying to do more with less already.”
“Having an officer in every school would be ideal,” she said. “We’re fighting for dollars. This is the next best thing we could do.”
Moore does not know of any other communities in which police departments are sharing radios with schools.
“Generally, police officers and departments are very possessive of their radios,” Moore said.