The Daviess County Sheriff’s Office (DCSO) initiated an intensive active shooter response training program for all its sworn officers in 2005, a program whose effectiveness was singled out for recognition by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in its international law enforcement training publication in 2010.
However, following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, even though such incidents thankfully remain rare, Sheriff Keith Cain and Daviess County Public School System (DCPS) Superintendent Owens Saylor began discussions about how we could work together to better prepare school personnel to deal with such a situation should it occur in our community. Although DCPS already had a mature and well-thought out response plan in-place, representatives from the two organizations met numerous times over several months to gain a better appreciation for the level of risk and to see if there were enhancements or modifications that could be made to further reduce that risk without changing the fundamentally open and welcoming nature of our schools.
Critical to success was our early appreciation for the fact that it is the school system that is responsible for the safety of its students and that we couldn’t just come in with a purely law enforcement perspective and tell them what to do. Everyone agreed that the solution was more training and some modifications to procedures, not turning our schools into armed fortresses. One of the first steps in this process was increasing the involvement of DCSO reps in the DCPS Safety Committee’s already ongoing efforts to refine and improve its incident response protocols
One of the first outcomes of this joint planning process was the decision to assign uniformed DCSO officers to assist each school principal in conducting his or her state-mandated, semi-annual lockdown drills. According to Sheriff Cain, “the purpose of having those deputies there was not to ‘grade the school’s paper’ but to provide extra eyes and ears for the school staff and hopefully pick up on areas where they might want to look at changing their procedures or modifying aspects of the school’s structure.”
A second major outcome from what had become a true partnership with the school system was the development of a formal active shooter response training program for school personnel. With major input from DCPS leadership, including Assistant Superintendent Matt Robbins and DCPS Safety Committee Chair Jim Barr, the exercises were designed by DCSO Special Deputy Allen Youngman, a retired Army officer with an extensive background in developing and carrying out complex training missions and also the department’s Senior Firearms Instructor. The program—which includes a simulated active shooter incident and therefore involves staff only, rather than students—has three purposes: (1) expose the participants to some of the sights, sounds and emotions that may be experienced in an actual event, (2) reinforce the critical importance of immediately following district procedures if an event occurs, and (3) introduce the participants to some of the dynamics likely to be encountered during interaction with responding law enforcement officers.
After briefing the Daviess County School Board and getting their buy-in, DCPS scheduled nine training sessions, each lasting about three hours, to take place during the summer of 2015. The sessions ultimately involved a total of more than 800 DCPS personnel, each of whom voluntarily attended in an unpaid status during their summer vacation to learn how to better protect their school children from a violent attack should one ever occur on their campus. As Sheriff Cain said, “I can think of no better example of the professionalism and dedication of Daviess County School faculty and staff than that so many of them would care enough about the safety of our kids to give up their personal time to come participate in this training. I hope that every parent, grandparent or other relative of a Daviess County school student understands and appreciates just how wonderful and caring those principals, teachers, cafeteria workers, bus-drivers, school secretaries, custodians and other staff really are.”
Based on the feedback from the initial participants, the two organizations also developed specialized training for school front office, Central Office, and other personnel. And, as word has spread about the schools program, other organizations—including local government, colleges, private schools, businesses, churches—have requested assistance from DCSO in developing their policies and training their personnel to deal with an active shooter event.
Sheriff Cain has made it clear that the relationship with the Daviess County School System is an incredibly valuable one and that we believe it should continue into the indefinite future. “The program that we have put together with Superintendent Saylor and his team is as good as or better than any in the nation,” he said, “but it’s kind of like getting a flu shot; you can’t just do it once and forget about it because the flu mutates over time; so do threats like active shooter and we have to train hard to stay ahead of them. That’s why we are so glad to have this partnership with the Daviess County Public Schools.”