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Tregre: School safety response never ends

I remember going to high school. It was fun. It was a caring, peaceful and safe environment.

Except for an occasional flare up over a girl, police officers on campus, weapons on campus or a lockdown on campus was hardly ever heard of.

This past week made me cherish my high school days. Every news station and every person I met was focused on the school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

Immediately following the tragedy, the focus was shifted to law enforcement and its response. That soon shifted to training or lack thereof, prevention, preparation, what could have been done, what should have been done and everything in between.

I am sure once all the facts of the investigation are made public, there will be some things that were done well and things not so well in the Florida scenario.

Over the past year, St. John Sheriff’s Office has planned, practiced, and prepared for active shooter events.
Our instructors have tried to do their best to duplicate an environment with officers responding to situations with a suspect who is basically homicidal and suicidal.

That has been the usual case. But don’t forget, this active shooter in Florida is different than all of the rest, because he attempted to blend in and escape with all of the fleeing survivors.

Just as in most copy cat situations, SJSO went into overdrive because of tips of potential school violence.

All cases of the violent threats were investigated. We spent many hours and sometimes days locating individuals who stated they heard from this person who said that this other person said that there would be violence at school tomorrow or the next day.

We saturated the schools with uniformed and plainclothes officers as much as possible, while leads and tips were continuously coming in at 7 a.m. or 7 p.m. daily.

There have been multiple phone conferences between school officials and law enforcement. There were requests from parents for extra officers at school or advice on if they should even send their child to school.

My team at SJSO has taken many steps to try to protect students and staff at all of the schools in St. John Parish. We have provided training, produced videos, rehearsed responses and SJSO even provided the schools with police radios so they can call us directly in the event of this type of situation.

I think we are probably one of the few agencies to provide direct radio contact with school and other elected officials in the case of any kind of emergency.

As Sheriff, I don’t have all of the answers to prevent this from happening. One common thread I see in these scenarios is that someone always seemed to know that a particular person “had that potential.”

Along with pictures of themselves armed and dressed in ways that are alarming or concerning and posting them on social media, someone, somewhere realizes a potential problem before it happens. This is where students, parents and the community can help us possibly prevent a tragedy from happening. Report it to law enforcement.

Of course more training will continue to be part of SJSO regarding prevention and response. As your Sheriff, I will continue to search across the United States to see what other agencies are doing to protect our schools and children and bring the best practices available back to our home.

Mike Tregre is sheriff of St. John the Baptist Parish. Reach him at sheriff@stjohnsheriff.org.