When “it can’t happen here” becomes “we never imagined it would happen here,” what usually follows is “what could have been done to prevent it from happening?”
For more than two years, Blackhawk Technical College officials have been considering how to keep students and staff safe from a worst-case-scenario event such as a school shooting.
In April, the Blackhawk Technical College Board approved plans for a pilot program that would involve armed security guards on the central campus and boost training for faculty and staff.
It’s not something they like to talk about, partly because no school wants to be thought of as a target and partly because the solutions to security problems aren’t always clear cut.
The college’s office of safety and security has unarmed and non-sworn security officers who work at the central campus, at the Advanced Manufacturing Center in Milton and at the Monroe campus. Students from the school’s public safety program are trained and patrol during the evening hours at the manufacturing center and on the Monroe campus.
Their duties include foot and vehicle patrols; safe walks with students going to their cars; community education and safety presentations; accident investigations; minor medical help to students, staff and visitors; and vehicle unlocks and jump starts.
It was the “knowledge and awareness of the Jakubowski threat” that started the conversation, said Renea Ranguette, Blackhawk Technical College vice president of administrative services.
Janesville resident Joseph Jakubowski in spring 2017 sent President Donald Trump an anti-government manifesto and afterward stole guns and a silencer from a local store. The manhunt, which involved the FBI and law enforcement from across south-central Wisconsin, resulted in increased security at schools, churches and other community organizations.
“When that situation was resolved, it prompted us to have a discussion around arming, and whether or not the campus should be armed,” Ranguette said.
The college then hired D. Stafford & Associates, a firm specializing in campus safety, to do an assessment of the campuses, but the firm’s arming assessment was inconclusive, Ranguette said.
Instead, the company recommended the college form a task force to review the results and decide for itself what level of security it wanted. After seven months of study and discussion with the campus community, the task force recommended a pilot program of armed security.
Armed guards won’t be entirely new for the college. They were used for a brief period in spring 2017 during the Jakubowski case.
Ranguette stressed that the task force’s recommendations went far beyond having armed security.
“One of the themes that emerged is that people do feel safe on campus,” Ranguette said. “But they also recognized the need for training—and for on-going training.”
Under a new system, training for emergencies—fires, storms and active threats— will be held more often so the response, if something should happen, will be more automatic and less panicked.
“We want to elevate that training and put it into a schedule that ensure people’s ‘muscle memories’ remain strong” Ranguette said.
The task force also met with FBI agents, who stressed the need for emergency planning and threat mitigation, according to the task force’s final report.
Part of threat mitigation involves watching for dramatic personality changes.
The FBI agents told college officials that the Secret Service Behavioral Threat Assessment Model has been adapted for educational institutions.
“The model focuses less on a person’s static qualities (used in profiling) and more on the current situation, particularly the dynamic elements that are changing for the worse,” according to the task force’s final report.
The college has a behavioral management team, and it has developed an online form for students and staff to report “concerning behaviors,” including comments that threaten harm to oneself, another person or the school; extreme changes in appearance or behaviors; inability to control emotions; and comments that are inappropriate or irrelevant to class discussion.
Rock County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Barbara Tillman has worked in law enforcement for all of her career. She also has served on the Blackhawk Technical College Board for a number of years.
As chief deputy, Tillman knows that Blackhawk’s central campus has very few calls for service.
“Occasionally, there’s a theft or an accident in parking lot,” Tillman said.
Tillman and her fellow board members also are interested in increasing emergency preparedness training for staff. The college’s task force and the board want to know what kind of training the armed guards will have in less-than-lethal responses, such as de-escalation and Taser use.
For any emergency at the central campus, help would come from several sources, including the Rock County Sheriff’s Office, the Beloit and Janesville police departments, the town of Beloit police, town of Turtle police and the Wisconsin State Patrol, Tillman said.
The sheriff’s office also has a substation at Blackhawk where officers write reports. Although the substation isn’t officially connected with the college, there often is at least one deputy there, Tillman said.
Even with law enforcement in close proximity, Tillman thinks—both as a board member and a public safety professional—the armed guards pilot program is a good thing.
“With the public safety hat and the college district board hat—I balance those two out,” Tillman said. “We need to be prepared and trained for any type of emergency.”
It might be too early to draw conclusions about Janesville’s experiment in allowing homeless people to sleep in their cars in a park. But so far, so good.
The arrangement began Thursday night in the parking lot of a boat launch on the far north side of Traxler Park.
Police reported one man stayed the night Thursday. Three cars used the lot Friday and Saturday nights.
Friday, Dave and Mary, who arrived at the lot separately, were passing the time by chatting in her minivan. They agreed to give their first names for this story.
They did not appear to be the people some in the community have feared, bringing drugs or other crime.
“I think we’re too old to do that,” Dave said.
They are both in their 60s.
Dave is a former construction worker and homeowner in Chicago. He has struggled for much of the past 20 years after his divorce and the death of his son, he said.
Dave starts a job next week, and he hopes to have enough money to get an apartment before the weather turns cold.
“I’m not asking for sympathy,” he said. “I’m a hard worker, a go-getter.”
Dave has gotten help from family, “but you can only ask so much,” he said.
Mary said she is a certified nursing assistant who had returned to her hometown of Beloit to care for her aging mother, but a domestic incident led to her being banned—unjustly, she said—from that residence.
Mary and Dave both have contacted shelters, but all were full, the two said.
A police squad car cruised through the parking lot as the two talked with a Gazette reporter. A nearby camera sends a live feed to a police monitor—although not continuously—through the night.
Sgt. Dean Sukus said police will offer help, such as a contact for possible rent assistance they offered to one person, but otherwise, they won’t disturb those who might need to get to work in the morning.
Mary and Dave said they appreciated the police presence, as did a woman who declined to give her name who was spending the night with a small girl.
The woman had been forced to leave the house where she was staying because it was sold, she said.
The woman had read news stories in which people expressed fear of homeless people. She said she and the girl are not that kind; all they want is a quiet place to spend the night.
The woman said this is her first time being homeless. She looked tired. Tears came to her eyes as she talked.
“Raising kids, working and trying to find a place is hard for one person,” she said.
Mary said she was uneasy to be sleeping in her car, but knowing police are keeping watch lessens her fear.
A new city ordinance allows the overnight parking only in this spot, which has a restroom and drinking fountain.
Police who encounter people sleeping in their cars now will be able to direct them to this parking lot, which is tucked behind commercial properties between North Parker Drive and the Rock River, Sukus said.
It is impossible to know if more people will use the site, Sukus noted, but as word gets out, numbers could grow. Plans envision no more than 25 vehicles during this trial period, which runs through Oct. 31.
A group of city and social-service organization representatives came up with the plan to address the growing numbers of people temporarily homeless because shelters are full, and the dearth of available apartments makes finding an affordable home harder to find.
Dave said he has seen apartments costing $650 to $800 a month.
“How can a single person pay that much?” he said.
“You can’t,” Mary responded. “It takes two people to make it.”
Mary said she plans to have a place to stay before the cold winds blow.
In the meantime, she’s grateful to Janesville for providing a safe place for her to sleep.
“It means a lot. It really does,” she said.
Kathleen L. Olver
Robert J. Sauser