Local police and Jordan School District work together for not if, but whenJan 05, 2023 12:40PM ● By Rachel Aubrey
All schools within Jordan School District require visitors to enter the campus through the main office located at the front entrance of the school. (Rachel Aubrey/City Journals)
Columbine High School. Sandy Hook Elementary. Stoneman Douglas High School. Robb Elementary. St. Louis High School. We recognize these names not because of the stellar standardized testing scores or the outstanding sports seasons, but because at one time there was an active shooter on each of these campuses, and tragedy ensued.
According to the K-12 School Shooting Database, “Incidents are labeled as an ‘active shooter’ when the shooter killed and/or wounded victims, either targeted or random, within the school campus during a continuous episode of violence.”
The aforementioned list of schools are just the incidents that caught media attention, in large part, because of the number of casualties.
According to Everytown for Gun Safety Research*, “In 2022 there [were] at least 140 incidents of gunfire on school grounds, resulting in 46 deaths and 111 injuries nationally.”
*(At the time this article was written, data was up to date as of Nov. 4, 2022)
While there may be a lot of unanswered questions as a result of these horrific events, at a local level, there have come to be a lot of answers. These answers come in the form of police officer training, and school district collaboration and school compliance.
Police officer training
Officer Shaun Becker has been with the South Jordan City Police Department for approximately four years and has been a school resource officer for two of those years at Mountain Creek Middle School. Her decision to join law enforcement was largely prompted by the terrible events that occurred in February 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. She said she was part of conversations after that incident that were, what she called, finger pointing conversations, focused on the could’ve, would’ve, should’ve.
“All of this negativity, and everyone pointing fingers, it made me realize we’re all a bunch of hypocrites,” Becker said.
Becker said that with all of the finger pointing going on, becoming a police officer was her effort to do something meaningful to protect those in her community. As a mother herself, she said that joining law enforcement has helped her to understand that there are other resource officers, on other school campuses, willing to ensure the safety of her own kids.
“And hopefully that gives another mother some peace of mind knowing that I’m at the school protecting her kiddos,” Becker said.
Sgt. Eric Anderson is over the school resource officers within South Jordan City. There are 15 public schools, including 10 elementary, three middle, and two high schools within the city limits. There are currently no SROs specifically assigned at the charter schools or the private schools within South Jordan, however South Jordan Police patrol the areas in and near those schools. Any call made by schools needing officer assistance will be dispatched to an SRO nearby. There are seven SROs within South Jordan City, including Anderson. These are sworn officers who have had at least a year of patrol experience.
If an active shooter situation were to occur on a school campus, the school resource officer is the first point of contact. Anderson said that if a 911 call was made by school staff, officers within South Jordan, who share radio frequency with neighboring cities Herriman and Riverton police departments, would respond with great numbers.
“If that level of extreme happens…there is an active shooter in the school…I guarantee that everyone and anyone is going to show up on that type of incident,” Anderson said.
While it is a comfort to know that in the event of an active shooter on campus all hands would be on deck, Anderson said that could cause a lot of chaos. The South Jordan Police actively train for mitigation of that chaos, or incident command.
In addition, South Jordan Police has specific training for school resource officers including Avoid, Deny, Defend, Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events, and single man building clearing. While the thought of being shot at could possibly keep them awake at night, officers like Anderson, who has been a police officer for more than 21 years, Becker, and countless others, know the risks and are willing to put their uniforms on to protect and serve.
“Even the officers that are not school resource officers themselves, there is not one officer within South Jordan that would not run head first into a school, if need be,” Becker said. “Not one of them would hesitate.”
Jordan School District collaboration
At a district level, board member and First Vice President Bryce Dunford said in his six years on the board, he gets constant inquiries about safety, often from parents, wanting to know if their kids are safe at school. His message is that Jordan School District is taking all necessary measures, directly and indirectly, to work and partner with local law enforcement to ensure students are safe at school.
“I think parents would be very surprised to know how close that relationship is between the police departments and the school district,” Dunford said. “And everything they have asked us to do, we’ve done.”
Dunford said that when a report comes out about an active shooter on a school campus, such as Uvalde, Texas, Jordan School District personnel consume and examine every inch of it in an effort to ascertain how ready they are for when something similar happens closer to home.
“Safety has been the one thing where we [the board] have just been the most united,” Dunford said. “Very few people show any hesitance in doing something to make students safer.”
Dunford did, however, express hesitancy on giving away too many details about the specific preparation the district has in place. However, on Oct. 11, 2022, during a weekly school board meeting, which is available to the public, Deputy Chief Ken Wallentine, along with Lieutenant Richard Bell, both of West Jordan Police Department, were invited to engage with the board about the unique and ongoing collaboration between the police and the district.
Early in the conversation, Wallentine highlighted a specific example of collaboration that is currently in place, the use of SAFE UT, an app created “through bipartisan legislation in response to Utah’s unacceptably high youth suicide rate,” according to the Huntsman Mental Health Institute. The app is monitored by the district as well as the police department for tips about potential threats to students, teachers and staff.
“I do have a deep and abiding commitment to the schools of our community,” Wallentine said. “That commitment is also to the collaborative effort [the police department] enjoy with our schools.”
School resource officer training was brought up during the board meeting as well, specifically active shooter training.
“I am confident law enforcement in Jordan School District is very well trained,” Dunford said.
Wallentine made it a point in the meeting to emphasize that often, police do more than just enforce rules and laws. Sometimes the duties and responsibilities encompass emotional and mental needs as well as physical safety.
“We do our best to have our officers be seen as something other than the enforcer,” Wallentine said.
More than just a police officer, Becker is a familiar face in the school and a safe point of contact for students. She cracks jokes with the middle schoolers, or she will be on elementary campuses and may sit and color with the kids during a DARE activity. Those simple interactions, according to Becker, could be students’ very first interaction with law enforcement.
Even if there were enough personnel and funding to allow for a SRO at every school campus, the district has found ways to allow for infrastructure to be more secure. Beginning in 2018, Bingham High School underwent major renovations including fresh paint, new HVAC, ADA approved ramps and elevators and a renovation of the main office entrance. These renovations continue to happen in phases.
According to Bingham High School Vice Principal Art Erickson, there are more than 40 possible entrances into Bingham. While these entrances are to remain locked from the outside during school hours, forcing all those who want to enter to come through the main office, it is entirely possible for a door to be propped open for the purposes of convenience.
The tragedy in Ulvade, Texas started with a door. A door that had been propped open for a time, had been shut but not locked, thus allowing the shooter access to the school. Wallentine and the board acknowledged and addressed this in the board meeting with Emergency Operations Manager, Lance Everill, as a possible breakdown in safety protocol.
Also mentioned in the Oct. 11 meeting were whether or not alarms should be adopted for propped open doors. With approximately 2,500 students at Bingham, there are students and staff coming and going at all times of day.
“Because of the ability we have for students to access part of their school day curriculum outside of the just being on campus proper, there is a need to allow them to come and to go,” Erickson said.
Rather than alarms, Erickson said he would love to see more full-time hall monitors who are able to interact with the students and who monitor halls for things like propped open doors. Another concern for Bingham High were dead spots within the school, areas where radio signal strength was subpar. According to Erikson, those issues have been addressed at Bingham.
“In our world, in law enforcement, we always train for not if, but when,” Anderson said.
To access the Oct. 11 board meeting recording visit https://jordandistrict.org/board/meetings/.
For more information and statistics about school shootings in the US visit https://k12ssdb.org/. Note: in July 2022, the K-12SSDB became an independent, nonpartisan research project that is not affiliated with any institution or agency.
Note: a previous version of this story misspelled Shaun Becker.