SHERIDAN — Sheridan County School District 2 schools will have a more noticeable police presence going forward.
Last week, SCSD2 administrators met with Sheridan Police Department officials to discuss changes to make area schools safer. Together, they determined that more officers will be at schools during both scheduled and unscheduled fire drills. Furthermore, SPD officers on patrol will do paperwork and laptop work inside schools more often.
The new initiatives are effective immediately. SCSD2 assistant superintendent Scott Stults said the meeting was partly in response to the school shooting last month in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people.
“This one was kind of a follow-up to say, ‘Do we need to reflect on the current practices that we are doing right now? Can we improve visibility?’” Stults said. “I think the answer is absolutely yes.”
By law, schools have to practice a fire drill at least once per month when school is in session, so officers are able to schedule their arrival time.
For unscheduled fire alarms, SPD dispatch will notify officers that an alarm has been activated and the nearest officers to the school will respond.
For a lengthy investigation, officers work in the office, but in most cases, an officer’s daily paperwork or laptop work is something he or she can do on the go. Thus, instead of stopping on a quiet street or parking lot, the officers will go to schools.
“The elementary school principals have all decided to make a (front office) space available for them to be visible so that they can be seen by both students and anyone visiting the school,” Sheridan Junior High School school resource officer Howie Fitzpatrick said.
Fitzpatrick is in his fourth year as an SRO and is almost always at SJHS. The same goes for Randy Pitchford, the SRO at Sheridan High School. However, none of the district’s elementary schools have full-time SROs, so that is where most patrol officers will go to work.
Fitzpatrick believes the changes will help build relationships between law enforcement and schools. SPD officers stop by the elementary schools every weekday morning, but having them in the building more often will hopefully increase familiarity. Fitzpatrick said the changes may also help SPD response time by spreading out the officers better instead of having most of them at the station on 12th Street.
Stults said Fitzpatrick and Pitchford have done a nice job building relationships, so if parents see a police car at a school, it isn’t cause for concern.
“It actually creates the opposite,” Stults said. “It’s like one more piece of security.”
SCSD2 also implemented the ALICE program last August to provide better training and more options during an active shooter scenario. ALICE stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate and is significantly different than the district’s previous policy, which implemented a lockdown. SCSD2 also works with the Sheridan County Sheriff’s Department as part of its police task force.
If an active shooter or potentially dangerous situation does arise, SPD officers have also learned in recent years about more options. Through ALICE, they receive RAIDER training, which is a solo officer response program aimed at instructing the first officer to arrive on the scene of an active shooter.
“It’s kind of the opposite of what we used to do, which was set up a perimeter and wait for a team,” Fitzpatrick said. “Now that first officer on scene goes in and tries to take care of the problem.”
Small changes are being made in SCSD2 in a proactive approach to lessening the chances of dangerous situations.