Along with the nation, the Marco Island Police Department mourns the tragic and senseless loss of children and educators in Newtown Connecticut. This horrific event reminds us that no community, regardless of location or demographic is immune to crime, even criminal acts as unspeakable and dreadful as demonstrated on December 14th. Those who research school violence remind us that these events have occurred in many countries and at all levels of educational institutions for the past five decades, however the 24/7 media cycle has made us more aware of these events in recent memory. The purpose of this communication is to explain and reassure the community regarding localized preparations. The Columbine High School incident in 1999 was a milestone event. Specifically it was the catalyst for all law enforcement agencies in the United States to change the way we respond to these types of events. These changes manifest themselves in four primary categories: training, equipment, tactics, and collaboration. Each of these segments are detailed components of an overall operational response plan.
On December 14th, The Marco Island Police Department, upon learning of the Newtown Incident immediately contacted our local school administrators in an effort to determine if there were any special concerns or needs. We assigned Police Officers to patrol the schools grounds in order to provide for an additional level of proactive security. Daily, the Marco Island Police Department maintains an overt law enforcement presence in the Island’s schools in the form of the Department’s School Resource Officer. Through an additional 500+ foot patrols performed by patrol elements last year, a further level of security provides for a significant law enforcement footprint in our schools.
From a big picture perspective, the Marco Island Police Department collaborates with its allied public safety professionals, educators and school security specialists on a daily basis. In the case of our schools, these collaborations take many forms to include event pre-planning, architectural review and recommendations, security plan recommendations, liaison meetings and finally table-top, walk-through, lock-down and full-scale exercises. We routinely work with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, Naples Police Department, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Marco Island Fire / Rescue, Collier EMS and Collier County Emergency Management on the critical topic of school safety and security. No single agency or entity can plan, react, manage, investigate, and recover from an incident similar to Newtown. The strength of the response is magnified exponentially by experience and core competencies of the response team.
Equipment and tactics are obviously inter-related components of any planning or operational response. Law enforcement has developed a dynamic and systematic response to events such as the shootings at Virginia Tech. (Virginia Polytechnic Institute / State University) or West Nickel Mines Amish School. The tactic has been proven to be the most effective way to stop someone who is intent on killing others. Through exercises as well as real incidents, law enforcement has created an extensive “toolbox” of options in terms of equipment. While complete discourse on policy, procedures, weaponry, armor, intervention tools, communications protocol and deployment tactics may provide an additional level of reassurance to parents, researchers have determined that many of those who commit these evil acts research the response parameters of law enforcement in an effort to delay or disable response or in attempt to kill responding law enforcement personnel. It is for this reason that we cannot discuss equipment and tactic in detail, however please understand that the Marco Island Police Department seeks to provide for the most effective response and conducts routine analysis of its equipment and tactics in an effort to remain an effective response element.
Training is the key element to any successful implementation of a response plan or procedure. As previously indicated, the Marco Island Police Department has conducted several recent training operations. The three most significant follow – Each year response protocol for both the school system and law enforcement is reviewed at multiple levels: administrative and operational. Adjustments and improvements are made based on best practices or recent developments. These changes are then incorporated in our training plans. In 2011 a significant training exercise was held at Tommie Barfield Elementary School. This exercise involved several different law enforcement, fire/rescue and emergency medical agencies. High school students, teachers and other adults were used as role players to increase realism. It is important to note that this exhaustive full-scale exercise was preceded by months of table-top and walk-through exercises as well as stand-alone training operations. A short time later the Marco Island Police Department participated in the county-wide school violence drill held at Seacrest Country Day School. These significant and complex training evolutions are held to test the tactics and equipment specified in policy, as well as the smaller training events held on a more frequent basis, such as school familiarization tours for new personnel and shift roll-call trainings.
A final thought on prevention. While the country: educators, sociologists, law enforcement and many other professionals are trying to find a way to minimize the loss of life, if not prevent these type of events in the future, a reoccurring theme permeates the conversation: forseeability. Stated more simply, it seems in many post-incident reviews there are frequently signs of impending violence or trouble demonstrated by those who commit these types of multiple homicides. Unfortunately however those who see these troubling signs often fail to report them to the authorities in an expedient manner for a myriad of reasons. In retrospect, one can easily see how critical it is to notify someone; be it school administrators or security personnel, mental health or medical professionals and preferably law enforcement, if you have reason to believe that someone may be on the cusp of committing a violent act. Law enforcement, moreover the community needs your assistance in preventing these types of tragedies in the future.
The Marco Island Police Department will continue its close relationship with and over-watch of the Island’s children and schools – now and in the future.