'Don't just sit there and wait to die': Billings police chief talks security with educators

2013-04-15T19:30:00Z 2014-08-25T07:43:31Z 'Don't just sit there and wait to die': Billings police chief talks security with educatorsBy ROB ROGERS rrogers@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Educators meeting with Billings Police Chief Rich St. John listened intently as he told them they had to be prepared to act if a shooter showed up to their school.

"You better get in that survival mindset," he told them. "Don't just sit there and wait to die."

School district officials from all over the Billings area — including the city's Catholic schools, School District 2, Laurel, Lockwood and Blue Creek — met with law enforcement officials on Monday to discuss school safety.

It was a follow-up meeting to one they had in December after news broke of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Connecticut the week before Christmas.

At Monday's meeting, St. John provided a brief overview of how law enforcement will respond and what school leaders should do if a shooter gets into a school. It was a preview of more intense training school officials will undergo once classes let out in June.

First responders to a school shooting have the responsibility to take down the shooter before they do anything else, St. John said.

He then gently cautioned administrators not to get in the way should some kind of incident occur.

"Once you pick up the telephone and dial 911, it's not your scene anymore," he told them. "We own it."

St. John explained that law enforcement would need the help and insight only principals and school officials could provide, so he told them to remain calm and helpful when law enforcement arrives.

Also at the meeting, school leaders talked about their best practices in school safety, their concerns about preventing violence and the next steps they could take.

That led to talk about what, if any, weapons are appropriate at schools for staff and how best to secure the multiple doors many of the school buildings used to keep open.

Officer George Zorzakis, the Billings Police school resource officer for Lewis and Clark and Will James middle schools, said ultimately there is no way to keep all the doors secure.

"I just don't think you completely shut a school down," he said. "I think using cameras, using video, using technology" will be the answer.

Many administrators talked of their hesitation to arm staff, that they didn't think it's wise to have teachers and leaders walking school halls with guns.

At the same time, they wondered about the feasibility of training a designated administrator to use a firearm that could be kept locked in the school office.

"I have a concern" about keeping students safe, said Joe Halligan, principal at Broadwater Elementary School. "I keep a bat in my office."

Administrators wondered if they could keep bear spray at their schools as a possible weapon to be used.

"Whatever you put in place, you better train up your staff on it," St. John told them.

Superintendent Terry Bouck was pleased at the participation and the enthusiasm for cooperation displayed at the meeting. St. John said they all had a common goal.

"We want to have a safe community, a safe learning environment," he said. "It benefits all of us."

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