In the wake of the Newtown Conn. elementary school shootings that claimed the lives of 26, including 20 children, local school administrators said they immediately began looking at their own safety procedures and policies.
“I think it would be inappropriate not to review what we’re doing,” said Todd Jaeger, the Amphitheater School District assistant superintendent. “You have to use this unfortunate, terrible moment to look at our own situation.”
Jaeger said the Amphitheater School District is complex in that it spans over three law enforcement jurisdictions, including the Oro Valley Police Department, Pima County Sheriff’s Department and the Tucson Police Department. While the Oro Valley schools are covered at all levels, TPD provides an off-duty officer on campus at the Amphitheater High School, but not at the lower-level schools.
When it comes to the five schools inside the Town of Oro Valley, Jaeger said all of them have school resource officers on campus.
Oro Valley Police Chief Danny
Sharp said in the early 1990s an annexation agreement that moved Copper Creek Elementary into town limits had a requirement of providing a school resource officer (SRO). With the DARE program becoming more obsolete, Sharp said they began working with the Amphitheater School District to increase the SRO program in all the schools.
“From the prevention aspect, the SRO program has a strong benefit in safety and for the students,” Sharp said. “Students start viewing officers as the good guys. They see them as a resource – as a place they can go for positive support.”
Jaeger said when it comes to schools in Oro Valley, the district is “incredibly blessed,” to have SRO’s on duty during school hours at every campus.
Unfortunately, Sharp said in today’s world having armed officers on campus is more important given the threat of terrorism at the international level, and the increasing number of mass shootings taking place at schools from threats within the United States.
“We have policies and procedures in place at every school,” said Sharp. “Our SRO officers have to go through active-shooter training, and be prepared in cases such as what happened here recently.”
Active-shooter training started after the Columbine shooting in 1999, where two high school gunmen killed 13, and injured 21. Now, Sharp said after a mass shooting occurs, they look at the data and have to train and prepare in the case it happens here.
Because mass shootings in the United States are becoming common, Sharp said he believes armed officers on all school campuses, in every school district is important.
“There is always a concern after one of these major shootings of a copycat,” he said. “We have to stay up-to-date, and we have to keep our kids safe. We need SRO officers at all schools. We want them in the classrooms teaching our students and serving as a positive influence, and serving as a resource.”
In many districts, only the high schools, and sometimes the middle schools have on-campus law enforcement. The lack of funding is a primary reason for not having officers on campus at every school for most districts.
The Marana School District does not have SROs posted at schools. Tamara Crawley, a spokeswoman for the district, said officers are provided by the local law enforcement and neither the Marana Police Department or Pima County Sheriff’s Department provide them.
However, Crawley said with updated polices and emergency procedures in place, the district works closely with Marana and the sheriff’s department to ensure school safety.
Because not all schools have SROs on duty, Jaeger said the Amphitheater School District is actively looking at how to increase on-campus security. Using bond funding approved by voters in 2007, Jaeger said they are assessing some of the older campuses and formulating a plan on how to increase security, which would include door-access controls.
Staff training is also an important aspect of keeping students safe in the case of a tragedy. Amphitheater administrators go through training, which is then passed on to school staff and personnel.
“We train administrators quarterly in preparedness drills,” Jaeger said. “It’s just something that is built into staff culture and development. You never want to think about those worst possible moments, but unfortunately, that is what we are having to do.”
As schools look at safety procedures and worry about copycats, the current Administration has sent a message that President Barack Obama has grown tired of speaking at memorials for mass-shooting victims.
In his presidency, Obama has now spoken at four memorials after a mass shooting. Last week, Obama appointed Vice President Joe Biden to lead the efforts for reform.