Law enforcement officers pressed plastic guns to the backs of Durango School District 9-R security specialists in a school gym Wednesday, giving them a chance to practice taking weapons from an assailant.
The districts’ six security specialists are not allowed to carry weapons, but that does not mean they will never be confronted with guns, knives or other threats.
“The only thing I’m arming them with is training,” said Kathy Morris, safety and security coordinator for the district.
The La Plata County Sheriff’s Office and Durango Police Department were invited this week to help train the district’s security staff for worst-case scenarios, she said. School security are likely to be the first people on scene if someone attacks a school, and law enforcement professionals prepared them for that possibility during the training.
“You guys are first resistance,” said Deputy Scott Blackwell with the Sheriff’s Office.
The district’s six security officers train to assist law enforcement, not replace them, Morris said.
The district hired security officers three years ago to work in the middle and high school campuses. It’s Morris’ goal to have officers at all the campuses.
“The culture is changing, so we are increasing our ability to recognize when there is a potential for a threat,” she said.
The 9-R school board was scheduled to vote in June on whether to arm security officers with concealed weapons, but the vote was canceled after parents and other community members expressed concern, including the lack of public notice, community discussion and scientific evidence for arming school staff.
Mass shootings have become far more common across the U.S. since the early 2000s when mass shootings numbered in the single digits. In 2017, 729 people were killed or injured in mass shootings, according to FBI statistics presented by Sgt. Barrett Potthoff during the training.
Law enforcement advises people to run, hide or fight in the event of an active shooter. Fighting an assailant is advised only when no other option is available, he said. Trying to disarm an active shooter is not advised, Blackwell said.
But should security officers be faced with a shooter, they can use improvised weapons and work to slow attackers down, Potthoff said.
“If I was in your position, the first thing I would grab is a fire extinguisher,” Potthoff said.
If security officers are the first to call 911 in an emergency, they can help provide dispatch with vital information by staying on the line and relaying as much information as possible.
During a shooting, students should stay behind locked doors in darkened classrooms. But some students could be out in hallways, in which case security officers should guide them to safety, law enforcement trainers said.
“Until we show up, you guys are going to be their saviors,” Blackwell said.
Once law enforcement arrives, security officers should provide guidance to the officers because they know the building best, he said.
To help prevent shootings and other violence from occurring, security officers can observe students who may be exhibiting warning signs sometimes shown by potential shooters, such as threatening violence, a fascination with weapons and poor personal relationships.
Security officers can reach out to those students and ask them directly if they are experiencing problems, listen to them and understand their point of view, Potthoff said.
“In school, your best defense is going to be your communication skills,” said Cpl. Bruce Hamer, a school resource officer.