Editor's Note: This is part 1 of two parts covering the TEA Party hosted School Security Forum
The Silver City-Grant County TEA Party Patriots hosted a forum on school security, Tuesday, April 23.
Panelists who answered questions from the public included Silver City Police Department Captain Rick Villalobos, Silver City School Board President Trent Petty, New Mexico State Police Sgt. Ricky Herrera, Grant County Raul Villanueva and Pro Force's Butch Cassaday. Invited, but unable to attend, was Cobre School Board representative Toy Sepulveda.
The first question posed to the panelists was school access and how to control it.
Villalobos said representatives of the SCPD have had discussions with Superintendent Lon Streib and performed an assessment of the schools. "We discovered some threats, such as if someone could get inside the school. We are looking at planning for the schools. I have participated at a local day care and it has been secured. Schools used to be open door, but now they have to be secured to a certain extent."
Villanueva said the Sheriff's Department deals with Cliff Schools and the Cobre San Lorenzo Elementary School in the Mimbres. "We have looked at layouts of the schools to coordinate with them. I graduated from Cobre. We looked for threats. The schools have allowed the SWAT teams to train in the schools. The Cobre School Board is cooperating with us well. Recently we met with Silver, and they were interested in what we had to say. When I take my children to school, we have people monitoring the schools. Having law enforcement personnel in the area is a deterrent."
Cassady said although he now is with ProForce, with his prior experience in law enforcement, he knows locks and buzzers can be defeated. "You have to look at how people can progress into where the students are. Sirens and panic buttons can help, as can proper lighting and signage. You need to look at access and egress."
Silver Schools Associate Superintendent Gus Benakis said every school's layout is different. "We want to protect the children. Last August, I contacted County Emergency Management Officer Gilbert Helton for help. At every school, we have drills, which we practice with the students. We have primary and secondary school protocols. Now the state mandates we have a first responder at the schools. We will have one there to revise emergency operations plans. We have to be proactive. When the state police wanted to meet with us, I said that we meet with all law enforcement, because if something happens, we can't wait around. Law enforcement has to get in fast. State Police gave us some suggestions, such as putting floor plans of the schools in each unit. We will also paint each building with its identification. It was suggested that we have lock boxes on some doors, for limited access. We administrators all welcome a law enforcement presence in the schools. We will let them train on SWAT drills during the summer. Every school has a safety committee of parents. We spent money on fences, but they are not always locked."
The next topic was lockdown procedures.
Villalobos said he is also the critical incident commander. "We practice and train on lockdown procedures. We see the schools doing well. Sometimes, it is better to shelter in place; sometimes an evacuation is better."
Petty said the school boards are looking at procedures, and "we ask law enforcement to tell us what direction to take."
Villanueva said a lot of times schools do lockdowns and do not alert law enforcement. "It is important to let us know; it is crucial to let us know so we can help."
Cassaday said he has an interactive system for the period of time prior to law enforcement getting on scene. "How are we going to keep the person from getting in the door? We also have to make sure the classrooms are secure enough."
Benakis said every classroom has a flip chart with the drills for different situations. "For the young ones, we call is 'skunk in the building.'
The following topic was on mental health issues and how to detect and report them.
Villalobos said if SCPD has intel information received through 911 or an anonymous tip, "we follow up."
Herrera said law enforcement personnel are required by law to have training in how to deal with mental health issues. "A lot of times, we deal with the same person over and over. We're trained to react to what's happening, but it's on a case-by-case basis."
Benakis pointed out that in the recent Boston Marathon bombing, the older brother indoctrinated his younger brother. "It takes only two weeks to indoctrinate someone. We, as administrators of the schools, have to be visible. Parents and community people know who's out there. They have to be proactive and let someone know."
Villanueva said many times it's not possible to know who has problems. "Sometimes, we know them, but the public will tell us who to watch out for. Sometimes, it's an unknown person. A lot of times, we want to blame mental issues, but sometimes, we don't know what to expect."
Cassaday said clues could be body language or mannerisms or the person talking to himself. "We need to educate people on what to look for, such as facial expressions of anger. Someone can go from calm to a blow up. If you're trained, you can look at an entire crowd and pick out someone different. Stress can also cause people to go off. You should trust that gut feeling about someone. Look for the abnormal."
Streib said the cooperation has been excellent with SCPD and the Sheriff's Office, with good follow up.
Another topic was armed security guards.
Cassaday said, in the state of New Mexico, a person has to have 140 hours of training, as well as a psychological evaluation for such a position. "It needs to be a decision by the school district whether there is a need for security guards."
Villanueva concurred and said it was up to the schools. The guards have to be trained in the handling of guns.
Benakis said in Silver Schools, for 14 years, they had a school resource officer at La Plata. "I can tell you we would welcome resource officers becoming part of the staff."
"I think if there were a resource officer, and shooters would know bullets were going to fly, they would shoot themselves," Herrera said. "Every school in Las Cruces has a school resource officers. It's the best resource for us. The best thing is to have guns. Yes, guns are risky, but there is good and bad. Shooters often turn the guns on themselves when they hear sirens. A lot of times, shooters are not unfamiliar with the school. They've been there before."
Petty said the Silver School Board would be visiting the issue. "I personally like the idea of a resource officer in the school, and I've heard we may get federal funding for them. When the officers go into the schools, the students get acquainted with them and trust them."
Villalobos said lack of funding did away with the resource officers. "We need school resource officers."
The last topic—anonymous concealed carry on trained staff— and questions from the public and the answers will be covered in the next and final article.