Preparing for the unthinkable
Law enforcement routinely trains
Area law enforcers say they are working close-ly with school districts to identify potential threats and improve security.
The collaboration is nothing new, but every time a major event occurs – such as the April 1999 Columbine High School massacre or last year’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary – the partnership between police and school officials is rekindled.
Police are involved with area schools on several levels:
Resource officers visit the schools to connect with students, help teach classes and provide extra security.
Officers sometimes police after-school events, such as football games.
They occasionally do mock training at schools on weekends to learn the layout of the buildings and rehearse for a mass-casualty event.
Officers and other emergency workers do walk-throughs with school officials to identify hazards or security threats.
The Durango Police Department has four full-time school-resource officers assigned to Durango’s public and private schools.
The presence of officers in schools helps deter crime and foster relationships with the children – teaching them that police are not the enemy, Chief Jim Spratlen said.
“We have an outstanding relationship” with the school district, he said. “We’ve got a pretty good rapport with the kids.”
School-resource officers walk the halls, observe fire and lockdown drills, assist with classroom lessons as they relate to the law, and help facilitate discussions about drugs and bullying. Police officers in full uniform often can be found giving students a high-five.
Durango School District 9-R does not pay a dime for the program. Instead, the expense is absorbed by the Durango Police Department, which is funded by city taxpayers.
“We’re real fortunate that we’ve got four (school-resource) officers,” said Sgt. Dave Peterson, who oversees the program. “That allows us to get a little more into the classrooms instead of just doing security.”
The La Plata County Sheriff’s Office, by comparison, has only one resource officer who spends 20 hours per week going to all of the schools in the county.
Officers also do mock training at local schools when school is not in session.
“We’re as prepared as we can be, short of going out to the range every day,” said Undersheriff David Griggs.
The Sheriff’s Office and Durango Police Department have been receiving tactical training on how to respond to an active gunman inside a school since before the Columbine shootings, said Dan Bender, spokesman with the Sheriff’s Office.
They also do a two-day course in August before school starts to train officers how to respond to an active gunman. There are four refresher courses each year.
Spratlen said Durango schools are about as safe as they can be without going overboard – including placing metal detectors at doors, security guards in every school, chaining the doors and basically having airport-like security screening.
“Even then, the bad guy can come up, pull his gun out, kill the security guard, go in and kill more kids,” Spratlen said. “You can go overboard on some things. The schools are pretty safe, and we’re trying to make them safer each day.”