Janesville police receive dozens of tips each year about young people who might be a threat to themselves or others.
Some have made threats to harm others at school, said Sgt. Aaron Ellis.
It’s possible that by following up on those tips, police have averted a shooting at a school here, Police Chief Dave Moore said at a meeting of the Rock County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee.
Police take all such tips seriously and will talk to the student and the parents, Moore said Thursday in the wake of the mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida, school.
If needed, police will offer to take weapons out of the home for safekeeping, Moore said.
“You never know the crimes you’ve prevented, but in my opinion, we’ve avoided some, either an issue in the school or a student that may harm themselves,” Moore said after the meeting.
Moore said police aggressively pursue all such tips immediately, no matter what time of day or night.
It’s important to find out if there’s a threat, Moore said, “because look around the nation. Look what’s happening when you don’t. We urge people to report things they hear and see.”
Police will figure out if the threat is real or not, Moore said, “but we’ve got to get the call.”
Many tips come from young people. High school students often know more about what’s going on than do teachers or other school officials, Moore said.
Moore and said his officers, sheriff’s deputies and those of other local jurisdictions train for rapid response to school shootings, and they can deal with a shooter or shooters.
But by the time they arrive on the scene, “we’ve already lost the battle,” he said.
The best way to avert tragedies is to stop them before they start, Moore said, and that requires someone to speak up.
Moore said in 90 percent of school shootings, someone had information that could have helped police or school officials deal with the shooter ahead of time, but the information didn’t come out until after the fact.
A Janesville Parker High School student made a threat recently, someone told police, and officers were waiting for her when she came to school, Ellis said.
The girl didn’t have a weapon, and she really didn’t intend to hurt anyone, but officers didn’t know that until they investigated, Ellis said.
Ellis said a cellphone app—introduced here in 2015—allows anonymous tips, and police are getting many more tips than they ever have, about 100 a month, and many of those are about people with mental-health problems.
Ten to 20 of those monthly tips involve a student who is believed to be a threat to himself or others, Ellis said.
Ellis said officers throughout the county receive the tips from the P3 Tips app, and someone monitors them 24/7, so if a threat is happening in Milton or in a rural area, for example, officers will respond there, too.
Those who prefer older technology can still call Janesville Area CrimeStoppers, 608-756-3636.
Moore said the shooter in Florida pulled the fire alarm, the third time a school shooter has used that tactic to gain access to victims, and that’s something that will have to be dealt with.
Moore attended a meeting of the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association on Tuesday night and heard a speech by the mother of a girl who died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut in 2012.
The mother talked about one thing students and staff are advised to do: hide and barricade themselves. Sixteen students hid in a rest room at the school, and that’s where the gunman found them, Moore said.
For at least a year, police and Janesville schools have been teaching a variation of the hide-and-barricade method, Moore said. Now, the advice is to run if possible, then hide, and if all else fails, fight.
Cmdr. Troy Knudson of the Rock County Sheriff’s Office, who also attended Thursday’s meeting, agreed with Moore about the importance of getting information about a possible threat before the tragedy happens. Knudson said he had worked with several county school districts, “and they’ve come a long way from the routine of hiding under their desks.”
Also at the meeting was Rock County District Attorney David O’Leary, who said that when he attends national training sessions, people from other states are amazed at the level of cooperation and communication among law enforcement, judges, prosecutors and others in Rock County.
Another participant at the meeting, Beloit College sociology professor Carol Wickersham, asked if law enforcement keeps track of people who stockpile weapons, particularly those that can fire rapidly.
O’Leary said “no,” because people have a constitutional right to own weapons.
But plans are in place to respond when concerns are raised about people who might be threats, and people have voluntarily given up their guns in some cases, O’Leary said.
Kate Luster, who heads the county human services department, said her caseworkers always ask about weapons in the home when they investigate people with mental-health problems.