By Chris Hendrickson, Monitor
Nobody can ever predict with 100 percent certainty when school violence will occur, but the School Services Unit of the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office continues to work towards prevention by providing a designated school safety resource team for schools in unincorporated Snohomish County.
The unit, headed up by Snohomish County Sgt. Scott Parker, serves 60 schools in unincorporated Snohomish County, both public and private. Sgt. Parker, who has been with the sheriff’s office for nearly 23 years, visited Sultan Middle School on Monday to give a presentation on what to do in an “active shooter” situation. In attendance at the presentation were officials from Sultan High School, Sultan Elementary, Gold Bar Elementary and Sultan Middle School.
The idea for a direct liaison between law enforcement and school districts was born conceptually in January, when former Snohomish County Sheriff John Lovick instructed his command staff to complete the formation of a unit assigned to the task of establishing and promoting school safety.
His request came on the heels of the Sandy Hook tragedy in which 26 people were shot and killed by a lone gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary school located in Newtown, Conn. The incident occurred in December of 2012.
During his presentation, Parker recalled the unit’s rapid development.
“Former Sheriff John Lovick told our command staff, ‘I want a school services unit. Make it happen,’” said Parker.
Command staff reported back to Sheriff Lovick, promising him the unit in time for the 2013 – 2014 school year. This was not the answer the Sheriff wanted.
“He said, ‘Absolutely not,’” remembered Parker.
Lovick wanted the unit intact with a commanding sergeant by February and five direct report deputies by March. This was accomplished, and the School Services Unit was officially launched on March 15 of this year.
In addition to establishing strong partnerships between law enforcement and school districts and leadership, the unit also works to create relationships with teachers and the students.
“Our School Services Unit is one of those units that has the opportunity to help reach kids before they get too far down the road and end up incarcerated,” said Sultan Police Chief Monte Beaton, who was instrumental in inviting the unit to come to the Sultan School District to present.
Sgt. Parker offered safety information, various safety suggestions and precautions, along with facts about active shooter situations. Parker went over six significant active shooter situations that have occurred within the last 14 years across the nation. Based on the events, which included Sandy Hook, Columbine and Virginia Tech, there is no accurate profile of students who engage in school violence.
The assailants come from a variety of racial backgrounds and cannot be identified by a particular age group. Their family situations ranged from foster homes to homes with intact families. Academic evaluations showed a range of grades all the way from straight A’s to failing. Some, but not all, had been previously diagnosed with mental disorders, and less than one-third had any history of drug or alcohol abuse.
The presentation also included practical safety information. Parker demonstrated a low cost technique to hastily engage the lock on a classroom door that can easily be accomplished with a piece of laminated cardstock and two rubber bands. Another tip included ensuring that interior signage identifying each classroom be positioned in such a fashion that the sign is perpendicular to the wall, rather than attached flush to the wall’s surface. This can greatly improve visibility as an officer is standing and looking down a corridor seeking a specific room number.
Parker outlined the recent changes to the number of required emergency drills put into place by the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction this last July. Schools are now required to hold at least one safety-related drill each month, and each drill must be documented with the date and time.
In addition to having access to the School Services Unit, the Sultan School District is unique in that it has its own School Resource Officer on-site at Sultan High School. Deputy Jason Toner replaced the previous SRO, Deputy Tom Dittoe, at the end of January.
“The role of the School Resource Officer is to be a visible law enforcement presence at school, an informal counselor to students, and give presentations to students on laws, the legal system and safety,” said Deputy Toner. “The goal of the SRO program is not to be the school disciplinarian but to aid school officials in reducing crime, drug abuse, violence, and provide a safe school environment.”
There are currently only two other SROs in operation, one at Mariner High School in the Mukilteo School District, and another in the Edmonds School District at Lynnwood High School.
“I believe that the SRO program gives kids the opportunity to interact with law enforcement in positive way,” said Toner. “In the past there has been an ‘us-versus-them’ mentality between students and police, and having an SRO at the school bridges that gap and helps build a stronger community.”
But despite all precautions, school violence is still a concern, and awareness is key.
The School Services Unit is available to give presentations, analyze and assess currently security measures and offer basic suggestions on what schools can do to be safer. They can aid in establishing student threat assessment teams when a potential threat has been identified by school staff.
To have the School Services Unit come to your school district, contact Sgt. Scott Parker at email@example.com or (425) 388-5217.