Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Security heightened at Blaine schools

Local police trained in responding to school shootings


By TERRY SMITH
Express Staff Writer

Police agencies in Blaine County have been training for the past several years in rapid response to a mass shooting situation inside a school or other public building. Police are shown here in an exercise in 2009 at Woodside Elementary School in southern Hailey. Photo by Mountain Express

The Associated Press reported Monday that security was increased this week at schools throughout the United States following a shooting last Friday that left 26 students and staff dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Ct.

The Blaine County School District was no exception.

District Superintendent Lonnie Barber said Monday that local law enforcement agencies “have increased patrols near the schools and will remain on high alert over the next few days.”

Barber’s statement was confirmed by Hailey Police Chief Jeff Gunter, whose agency provides police services for the majority of the district’s schools and facilities.

“We do have an increased presence at all the schools today, and that’s probably going to continue through the week and we’ll reevaluate on Friday,” Gunter said Monday. “I’m not going into details because that’s tactical, but people will see increased police presence at the schools.”

Law enforcement agencies in Blaine County have been training for school shootings or situations in other buildings or facilities where violence is occurring or threatened. Most recently, in October, police throughout the valley participated in an emergency drill with a mock shooter at St. Luke’s Wood River. Previously, police have held emergency drills at other facilities including schools.

“We’re trained to go into any place, any building,” Gunter said. “It’s not a task force, it’s everybody. We have actively trained our patrol officers in active shooting scenarios. If something like that happened here, we are prepared and we would go in and get the shooter.

“We’ve got the resources, we’ve got the equipment, we’re as prepared as possible,” Gunter said. “We are prepared to respond to an incident as well as anyone in the nation.”

The preparation involves not only Hailey police but all police agencies in the county.

“All officers are trained in it,” said Blaine County Sheriff Gene Ramsey. “If something happened now, all officers in the valley would go to that school.”

Ramsey and Gunter said the top police priority in a shooting rampage in any building is to get the shooter or shooters first.

“We will respond and not make the same mistakes they made in the past, like at Columbine where they tried containment,” Ramsey said.

The sheriff was referring to shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., in 1999, where two students killed 12 of their classmates and a teacher. Later investigation showed that the shooters continued killing students even after police had surrounded the school but hadn’t yet entered the building.

“It’s the old thing, ‘It can’t happen here,’” Ramsey said. “But yes, it can happen here. Am I paranoid about it? No, but we’re constantly evaluating what we’re going to do. It has always been on our radar.”

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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