Twenty-three years ago, the Columbine High School massacre changed the way law enforcement across the country responds to crises. During this time, as new tragedies struck, a network of Park City area partners came together to create a living document to protect students and the community.
The multi-agency approach allows representatives from the Park City Police Department, Summit County Sheriff’s Office, Park City School District, Park City Fire District, and Park City Emergency Management to network and coordinate their efforts for an effective and rapid response. Agencies in the region are working together as part of a school safety task force to ensure everyone involved follows the same procedures, and following the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where 19 children and two teachers were killed, officials plan to review their procedures. They trust local law enforcement, they said.
“After Columbine in the late 90s, law enforcement totally changed their response to how we handle these types of incidents. It’s no longer about calling SWAT and circling and waiting – it’s immediate action and we are training officers to react immediately. Our training across the country has also changed, so it’s a very different environment,” Park City Police Chief Wade Carpenter said. “We continue to grow [the School District security initiatives] and change as we learn from these horrific events.
Summit County Sheriff Justin Martinez agreed. After Columbine, he said, local law enforcement stopped relying solely on SWAT and began training all patrol unit members on how to engage with active shooter. .
From classrooms and school buses to hospitals and City Hall, the police and sheriff’s office are involved in active shooter training throughout the year. The different environments expose law enforcement to various situations and help them hone their skills in different locations while learning the layout of the area.
About once a year, deputies also practice a school shooting simulation that allows them to go through their entire procedure, Martinez said. The training takes place in a school building and includes performing arts students, some of whom are covered in bloody makeup, and teachers to make the scenario more realistic.
Mike McComb, Park City’s emergency program manager, said the city’s emergency management program also offers Run, Hide, Fight training with the help of law enforcement and first responders to train city employees on what to do if they encounter an active shooter. They are taught to create distance by running, hiding if there is no possibility of escape, or fighting off the attacker as a last resort.
“We certainly hope we never have to use something like this workout, but the body can’t go where the mind hasn’t been, so we’re starting to get people thinking about these actions,” said McComb said.
In recent years, there have also been efforts to have emergency medical responders train law enforcement in the application of tourniquets and the treatment of other traumatic injuries. Michael Tanner, the school district’s director of operations, said the district has trauma kits in all buildings to help people provide care for injuries in the event of a shooting, with law enforcement focusing on whereabouts. and the neutralization of an active shooter.
Police officers and deputies have access to school buildings via a key card, and the school district also has starter kits filled with keys, floor plans, and other information in all buildings to ensure safe quick response from law enforcement.
Students and staff are also trained using the standard I Love U Guys Foundation response protocol. The action-based response is designed to be simple and easy to understand in a crisis. It includes five steps: restrain, secure, confine, evacuate and shelter. The protocol is posted in every classroom and is practiced as part of district emergency drills.
Carpenter and Martinez said law enforcement investigates all threats of violence in schools to determine their validity and works with schools to enforce safety protocols.
“Unfortunately we get threats from time to time and that is indicative of all schools in our country and it has become something that law enforcement have become accustomed to. We take each of these calls very seriously. Certainly, we’re looking for the roots of where it started and making sure that when the fees are appropriate, we charge appropriately,” Carpenter said.
The day after the Robb Elementary School shooting in Texas, Tanner said, security was tightened at schools in the district and additional law enforcement patrolled for a visible presence. The Park City Education Association thanked law enforcement for their work and commended the district for taking steps to keep students and staff safe over the past few years.
“It is unfathomable what the community of Uvalde is going through, and our hearts and minds are with them in the coming days as they deal with this tremendous tragedy. Here in Park City, teachers and building administrators have spent more time reassuring students and reviewing our own safety practices,” said a statement prepared by the Park City Education Association.
Over the past two years, Park City schools have also invested heavily in internal threat assessments. Behind-the-scenes work involves a team helping to identify students and staff struggling with internal struggles to prevent an external problem. If a case is identified, the team determines the magnitude of the situation to determine the course of action. Tanner said the goal was to help someone before they acted out.
In the days following the Uvalde shooting, media reports that delays and discrepancies in police responses have angered Uvalde residents. Martinez said blaming law enforcement didn’t help the situation, but he was confident in how local law enforcement would respond in an emergency.
There is at least one sworn Park City police officer on the Kearns Boulevard campus who handles security during school hours. There is also a retired sheriff’s office deputy who helps Park City High School with investigations and other duties. Tanner said the district also has the entire police force in the city, which could arrive at the school within minutes of being dispatched.
Carpenter said it’s not uncommon for police officers to park their vehicles in front of the school and help monitor during downtime. There is a Deputy assigned to Summit County Schools, who has access to the Sheriff’s Office and other mutual aids.
“We have the potential that often in some school districts there may be a School Resource Officer and SRO may be the only officer nearby. Their responsibility is – in an ideal situation, we’d be happy to step in with several officers and implement the training they’ve received – but in a situation where there’s an active shooter and lives are taken, each Deputy is prepared and willing to go it alone to neutralize this threat,” Martinez said. “The way we look at it is that we are the professionals. We have the bulletproof vests. We have the skills on the range. We have training on several types of weapons and therefore we should be more qualified and better able to engage a suspect who is not as well trained as the deputies. Each assistant is trained to intervene as a team and each assistant is ready to intervene individually. »
The sheriff’s office, including dispatchers, also has access to nearly 500 security cameras in the district. If there’s a situation, they can see exactly where it’s going and communicate with law enforcement about where to go, minimizing response time and confusion. Martinez said evolving mapping and computer technology make it difficult for deputies to respond without critical information, and law enforcement is considering new systems to help in those scenarios.
Carpenter agreed and said the police department constantly evaluates its policies and is always ready to implement new strategies that will improve the local community.
“We are certainly learning from the national narrative of what works and what doesn’t. We’re not too proud to change when we find we can do something better,” he said.