Monday, December 18, 2017
Education

Experts say swift response is necessary when a school is threatened

TAMPA — The number of violent incidents in schools is holding steady, but the casualties appear to be rising.

The killers are learning from one another. And the window of time to stop a killer consists of mere minutes.

Such statements, courtesy of local law enforcement, will inform Hillsborough County School Board members as they prepare to enact a security policy for the district.

Almost since the Dec. 14 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, district officials have wrestled with the question of how to prevent such an occurrence in Hillsborough. The board rejected an early idea to provide an armed guard or resource officer at every school.

The board did, however, hire a leading security consultant and a workshop is planned next week to begin ironing out a plan.

Already, the district has partnerships with area law enforcement agencies and has its own school-based security force of 44 guards.

At a session Tuesday morning, Jared Douds of the Tampa Police Department outlined what the experts do and do not know about people who pose a threat to a school.

What they don't know: The killers, while often teenagers or young adults, do not fit neatly into any one race, gender or age group.

What they do know: Often they telegraph their actions by testing the waters. "Some folks have talked about it, blogged about it, put it on Facebook," Douds said.

When they kill, they show a desensitized attitude toward their victims, he said. "It's a very casual, lax attitude that they display."

And they don't expect to survive the attack. "Typically, these folks are on a suicide mission," he said.

One statistic that caught the board's attention came from Hillsborough County Sheriff's Deputy Jim Previtera: Florida ranks 51st in the nation (behind Puerto Rico) in funding for community-based mental health.

Board members, while not ready to act on the information, did offer some suggestions.

Doretha Edgecomb, a former principal, said that any steps that can be taken to build relationships between police and school families can help prevent violence. She also asked that the board remember that they need to protect children and also the adults who work at the schools.

Member Candy Olson suggested all students and adults at middle and high schools be required to wear identification badges that would also enable the schools to take attendance electronically.

"That's just a basic, simple first step," she said.

Marlene Sokol can be reached at 813-226-3356 or [email protected]

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