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.”