Police seeing increased demand for civilian training after string of recent shootings; Lawrence police meet with school officials

Students hold their hands in the air as they are evacuated by police from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018, after a shooter opened fire on the campus. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

In the weeks following the deadly Valentine’s Day shooting at a Florida high school, Americans have had to confront an unsettling reality: It could happen anywhere.

And Lawrence residents, like many around the country, are looking to law enforcement officials for guidance on what to do if the worst should happen.

Captain Troy Squire leads the active shooter training for the Lawrence Police Department’s Basic Recruit Academy and also oversees C.R.A.S.E. classes (Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events) designed specifically for community members.

Squire said his department has seen an uptick in training requests in recent months, as mass shootings like those in Las Vegas, Parkland, Fla., and Sutherland Springs, Texas, have dominated headlines and political debates. The last year was the deadliest for mass killings in the U.S. in more than decade, with USA Today tallying 208 victims of mass killings from January to November 2017.

“There seems to be increased requests following active shooter events,” Squire wrote in an email. “We had one training that coincided with the new gun laws, and they wanted us to talk on the new gun laws.”

Lawrence Police have received about two dozen requests for training over the last few months, Squire said, and have visited local medical facilities, community organizations and churches to provide techniques and resources for dealing with active shooter scenarios.

Squire and his colleagues teach the “Avoid, Deny, Defend” strategy used by law enforcement agencies across the country since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. The ADD plan emphasizes situational awareness, minimizing opportunities for shooters to gain access to potential victims (i.e., locking and barricading doors, silencing cellphones and turning off lights) and defending oneself by any means necessary.

The Lawrence Public Library underwent its second C.R.A.S.E. training workshop in about four years earlier this month, in the same week 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz allegedly gunned down 17 people at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

“It’s just the reality of being a public building,” Brad Allen, the library’s director, told the Journal-World. “You have to figure out how you’d prepare if anything like this were to happen.”

On any given day, somewhere around 2,000 people pass through the library’s doors at 707 Vermont St. The vast majority “aren’t staff and aren’t people we have control of, necessarily,” Allen said. That’s why he feels it’s important that staffers memorize escape routes (the library has only one publicly accessible entrance) and recognize potential defenses (furniture, books and shelving can all be thrown or used to block against a shooter) in order to protect themselves and library guests.

Some might use the phrase “soft target” to describe buildings like the library, with its lack of metal detectors and armed guards. Allen doesn’t see either detectors or guards as viable solutions, at least not at the Lawrence Public Library. But he also feels the community needs to think seriously about what’s most important: personal safety or personal liberty?

“Should a school be built like a prison? Should it have metal detectors? How do we want to defend buildings? If we want this to be an open and welcoming place, there are some risks that come with that,” Allen said.

In schools

School districts across the country are confronting similar questions in the wake of the Parkland shooting. District and school administrators from the Lawrence district met Monday with Lawrence Police Department representatives to discuss strategies that would strengthen crisis plans and procedures across the city’s 14 elementary schools, four middle schools and two high schools, school district spokeswoman Julie Boyle said in an email.

The Lawrence district got a scare Feb. 19, when a Free State High School student, just days after the Parkland massacre, allegedly used social media to threaten a school shooting in Lawrence. The incident was quickly reported to police, and that case — in which almost no details have been made public — is now in the hands of the Douglas County district attorney.

Boyle said administrators planned to attend active shooter training next month “and will continue to work with Lawrence Police to establish a framework for the training of additional staff.” Details about how many staff members would receive the training and what kinds of positions would be trained have yet to be worked out, Boyle said.

The district is also assembling an Emergency Operations Planning team that would include school staff and representatives from local law enforcement, emergency management, fire and medical services, in addition to First Student, the district’s student transportation provider. The aim, Boyle said, is increased security, minimization of damage and loss, and a swift return to “a regular functional level” after a crisis has passed.

“Student and staff safety is our top priority every day,” Boyle said in an email. “The Parkland, Florida school shooting, and other acts of violence, spur additional discussion and review of safety measures, crisis plans, and procedures.”

It’s a discussion school staff are encouraged to facilitate (in an age-appropriate manner) with students, Boyle added. In addition to full-time mental health professionals at each building, the district also retains three on-call crisis support teams that can be deployed to schools when needed.

The district is also exploring the idea of contracting security services (both Lawrence high schools already have armed resource officers on site) and employing “additional emergency communications tools,” Boyle said.

The Lawrence Public Library isn’t planning any additional security measures in the wake of the Florida shooting, however. Besides the cost to taxpayers, Allen said hiring armed guards doesn’t align with the library’s role as a self-proclaimed “safe space for everyone,” to borrow a phrase from the Lawrence Public Library’s own marketing efforts.

“What do we want the world we live in to look like? To me, I think that’s a question we all need to ask ourselves,” Allen said, later adding, “At this point, I’d like for us to be an open and inviting space. I guess we have to figure out how viable that is in our society as a community.”