This year, there have been seven school shootings in the United States.
Those numbers come from Education Week, a periodical focused on K-12 education. It only counts incidents in which a gun was fired inside a K-12 school building, on a school bus or at a school-sponsored event resulting in injuries or deaths of people who were not the shooter. Suicides on school grounds and shootings at colleges are not included in that number.
The Janesville School District takes a multifaceted approach toward school safety. It relies on access control, police presence and shared information. It also includes an aspect that was first developed and used here.
Brian Donohoue is the district’s police liaison and security consultant. Before working at the school district, Donohoue spent 33 years in law enforcement.
He explained the different pieces of the district’s security systems.
In the Janesville School District, all visitors, including parents, must be buzzed in by staff at the school.
School staffers tell those in charge of buzzing people in when they are expecting visitors.
At the main entrances, the schools use “facial recognition technology,” which is basically a camera and a speaker.
In some cases, the front-desk staff can see people at the front door from where they are sitting.
What do they do if they have an unexpected visitor or one they don’t recognize?
“You have to have a reason to be there,” Donohoue said.
Even if a person has what seems like a plausible reason for being there, the front desk staff won’t let him or her in if they are uncomfortable or uncertain.
If an unknown person is at the door asking to come inside, staff can seek more information to determine the person’s identity. If they can’t, the front desk calls the police to report a suspicious person.
When allowed into the school, visitors have to report to the front desk and sign in, usually on a computer. They are then given badges and are escorted to and from their destinations.
During the school day, all the doors are locked, and visitors can only get in through one main door.
“Your first defense is always access control,” Donohoue said. “Access control is paramount.”
Those efforts are defeated if someone props a door open. And of course, students do let each other in.
“We really harp on that,” Donohoue said. “If your door is propped open, close it.
Administrators and front desk staff are given threat assessment and crisis management training.
The best known and most visible sign of security are the school resource officers, one assigned to each of the city’s five middle and high schools.
These Janesville police officers are in the schools every day and are more than just armed guards.
Their roles include dealing with fights and other serious issues, getting to know students, providing a comforting and friendly presence, training staff on safety issues, and being the first responder for any emergencies.
Each of Janesville’s schools has a police radio.
After the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012, Janesville Police Chief David Moore reached out to then-Superintendent Karen Schulte.
“He knew we had to do something,” Donohoue said. “He knew we have to get cops to the site of the shooting as soon as possible.”
As a result, the district outfitted each building with a portable police radio.
“That radio is to be used for one thing and one thing only: an imminent threat,” Donohoue said.
Instead of calling 911 to report an incident and having the county communications center dispatch officers, calls from the radios are heard by all officers everywhere.
“Everybody’s going; they’re not waiting to be dispatched,” Donohoue said.
And by everybody, he means everybody: detectives, officers working in specialty units and officers from other jurisdictions within the county.
“That’s going to save precious seconds,” Donohoue said.
The Janesville Police Department was the first in the nation to take such an approach, Donohoue said.
Each portable radio is tied to a building, so when the call goes out, the officers know where to go. The people in charge of the radios go through training and drills several times a year.
One of the problems in the Parkland, Florida, shooting last month was lack of follow-up on tips regarding the suspected shooter, Nikolas Cruz.
“I’m not going to second-guess the Boward County Sheriff’s Department or the FBI,” Donohoue said. “I just wanted to make sure that couldn’t happen here.”
To do that, the police department relies on its P3 Tips app.
When someone submits a tip, it goes to 20 different members of the police department. They also go to 10 more police contacts outside JPD.
Communication among recipients assures the appropriate person will follow through.
If there is a problem, Sgt. Aaron Ellis, who oversees the program, can see who looked at the tips.
A larger toolbox
Teachers and students go through active shooter drills during each school year. The standard training includes turning off the lights, locking the door, and hiding students out of a potential shooter’s line of sight.
“A shooter goes for sights and sounds,” Donohoue said. “And it’s rare that a shooter will enter a locked room.”
The windows in or near classroom doors have shades to pull down. Teachers often cover them up with student artwork or posters as a precaution.
“We used to have only one tool in the toolbox, and that was ‘hide,’” Donohoue said. “Now we know from the FBI, from Homeland Security and from the International Association of Chiefs of Police that we have other tools.”
Based on information gleaned from other shootings, a new model, “Run, Hide, Fight,” was introduced this year. The district, working with 4M Productions, produced a safety video that was mandatory viewing for all district staff.
“We didn’t want to shock everybody, we didn’t want to scare everybody, but we wanted them to know they had choices,” Donohoue said.
“Run” means just that. If teachers know where the shooter is and can do so safely, they can send students out the nearest door or window.
“Fight” can be used as a last resort. The video includes a variety of ordinary classroom items that can be used to disable an attacker so students can escape.
The Janesville Police Department also runs school-shooter training several times every year.
“When they hold those trainings, everybody is invited,” Donohoue said. “Because we know that when it happens, we’re not going to care what uniform comes through that door—State Patrol, Rock County Sheriff, Milton PD, DNR—we just want to neutralize the threat.”