Thursday marks a grim anniversary: It has been one year since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla, that killed 17 and left another 17 injured. Since then, school officials and police officers across the country have discussed policy and contingency plans should a similar event happen at their own schools, the Historic Triangle being no exception.
According to Master Officer Charlie Ericsson of the Williamsburg Police Department, it’s an event local police departments have, for better or worse, spent years preparing for.
“We have had policy and training in place department-wide for years, even prior to the Parkland shooting,” Ericsson said. “We have run multiple lockdown drills each school year. Part of our annual training in the department is how to handle active shooters, in addition to several types of specialized training.”
Ericsson, who also serves as the school resource officer at Berkeley Middle School, said Williamsburg has an advantage compared to other localities: the area has multiple police departments able to respond.
“We are in a unique position (here) because we have officers we can call on from Williamsburg, William and Mary, James City County and York County. We all train together, we all work together, and if there is ever an active shooter in the area, we would all respond together.”
That history of mutual aid is also mentioned by Stephanie Williams, spokeswoman for James City County Police Department, in addition to the level of specialized training local officers receive, some of which was instituted after Parkland.
“This past year, all of the department’s personnel received ALERRT (Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training) Active Shooter Response training this past year, while our SRO’s also conducted Use of Force Simulator Training that included response to Active Shooter Environments,” Williams said. “We are extremely proactive in the area of active shooter response and are constantly looking for methods to improve this area. It’s an ever-evolving process, and we are as prepared as we can be.”
Over in York County, Capt. Kyle Hahn of the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office said something just as critical as any co-operation and training is something much simpler: increasing officer presence and patrols.
“We work very hard with mutual aid and with training in the department, but we’ve also made sure our officers are all more proactive,” Hahn said. “Our road units have been briefed, our SROs have been briefed and we’ve increased our patrols past schools.”
As far as measures taken by school divisions, Eileen Cox, spokeswoman for W-JCC schools, cited a number of safety precautions already taken into account.
“While some details are not shared with the public — obviously, the more widespread these plans are, the less effective they become — there are several security measures at W-JCC Schools we are quite proud of,” Cox said. “All W-JCC schools have buzzer entry systems for visitors and card key access for staff members. Our visitor sign-in system checks visitor IDs against sex offender databases nationwide, and the division continues to redesign and renovate front entrances at schools to better manage public access and the flow of foot traffic.”
Cox went on to cite not only physical security measures taken by local schools, but the emphasis on the human and relationship elements playing a large role in those schools.
“We have outstanding relationships with our local law enforcement agencies and school resource offices, and furthermore, teachers and staff work very hard to create positive relationships with our students,” Cox said.
“We want students to feel comfortable talking with counselors, teachers and other trusted adults when they have a problem or when they become aware of a potential safety issue related to their school. Having those open lines of communication and support are very important to keeping our schools as safe as possible.”
In terms of areas where there could be some improvement, Ericsson cites school discipline as an issue, but for any parents or students concerned about safety in the schools, he promises he and his officers are alert and ready.
While those preparations continue, Ericsson said for many officers, school safety is a personal issue as well as a professional one — many of them are parents as well as police officers.
“My own children go to school here. A lot of our officers have kids attending schools here,” Ericsson said. “I cannot say enough that we are doing all we can to not only prepare for the worst, but doing all we can to keep something like that from ever happening here, so all of our kids can feel safe.”
Sean CW Korsgaard can be reached at 757-968-1529, by email firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Twitter @SCWKorsgaard.