A group of law officers who talked with Congressman Dave Loebsack in a forum on gun violence this week, said having officers in schools is important. They also talked about other approaches to protecting kids in schools. Eldridge police chief, David Kopatich said his department is training staff in the North Scott school district in a new response called “ALICE.” The same program is being looked in the Atlantic Community School District. “The ALICE program stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Escape,” Kopatich said. “In the past what we have seen with school policies is that schools simply go into a lockdown mode, where students are locked up in their classroom, basically just sitting, waiting.” Kopatich said the ALICE program has the students and teachers try to escape the shooter.
He said past cases have shown that it’s not a good idea to just sit and wait when a gunman comes into the front of a building, it is better to try and take the students out the back and get them out of harms way. Kopatich said the plan also shows teachers and students how to try and stop the shooter as another option. “Are people possibly gonna get hurt? Yeah, the possibility exists. But just sitting there waiting for a gunman to randomly shoot everybody in the room is probably not a good option,” Kopatich said. “We’re looking at it as the survivability of trying to teach the kids and the staffmembers that you need to survive the situation at any cost.”
Sheriff Kopatich said surviving can range from throwing a chair through a window to get out of the school, to trying to stop the gunman. He says they also have worked with school staff to keep classroom doors locked during the day. Some schools have panic buttons where administrators can automatically lock all doors when something happens. Ottumwa Police Chief, Jim Clark, told the congressman that there should be some mandatory design standards for new schools that incorporate more security. “I know many of our older schools here in Ottumwa, the doors open out, they don’t open in. You can’t barricade the doors…,” Clark explained. “A lot of our schools are older, they don’t have the automatic door closures, in fact many of our doors in our schools don’t even lock, they don’t have locks on ’em.”
Fort Madison Police Chief, Bruce Niggemeyer, said he believes have a School Resource Officer would provide more safety, but he said the cost is an issue. “We have been trying for some time to get one so we can get them into our school system, but we just simply don’t have the money, we are not that big a community,” Niggemeyer said. DeWitt Police Chief Dave Porter agreed that the officers are important. “We are fortunate to have a school resource officer in our community. Some of those other school shootings that have occurred are a result of bullying, kids pushed to the brink,” according to Porter. “And I think having a school resource officer in the school helps to defuse a lot of those situations as the children build trust in the school resource officer, I think that is an important element.”
Other law officers agreed with Porter. Loebsack, a Democrat from Iowa City, said the forum is one of a series he plans to discuss the issues of gun violence in the wake of the school shootings in Connecticut.