LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
In the aftermath of two of the deadliest shootings in U.S. history last year, Laurel County Schools Superintendent Doug Bennett has implemented a Laurel County School Safety Task Force for 2013. The force is currently made up of Officers Mike Holiday and Sgt. Travis Dotson of the London Police Department (LPD), and Lt. Rodney Van Zant of the Laurel County Sheriff’s Office.
“We have partnered with local law enforcement and first responders to review existing Emergency Management response plans and procedures as well as to coordinate our efforts to help ensure our students and schools are as safe as possible,” Bennett said.
“This task force will be intent on effecting new and revised methods of preparing for a rapid response to a violent intruder,” said Lt. Van Zant.
The group is currently meeting once a week. Laurel County Sheriff John Root has also mandated all 22 deputies and detectives perform walk-throughs for all 18 county schools by Thursday, Feb. 28, then they will repeat the procedure every three months. In addition to two Safety Resource Officers (SROs) who patrol the local middle and high schools, there are eight certified SROs at the LPD who periodically visit all schools across the county. SROs have been present in the schools for 12 consecutive years.
The increase in school security is being implemented without extra funding or staff. Sheriff Root is currently in the process of petitioning the Laurel County Fiscal Court with the intent of obtaining approval for funding School Resource Deputies which would be assigned to rotate between the 17 county schools full time as well as at East Bernstadt Independent School. If funding is approved, this will be the first time in six years the Sheriff’s Office has had deputies present within the schools.
The Safety Task Force is focused on creating safer facilities for a better learning environment in order to protect Laurel County’s most valuable resource, its youth. Emergency lockdown safety drills in the case of a violent intruder have been implemented since school began this year. The Safety Task Force has also begun reviewing procedures with the goal of strengthening the emergency management plan at each school.
“We’re up for the task. We are looking at procedures not to scare kids but because this is the new reality we are in,” said London Police SRO Dotson. “My son starts kindergarten next year and he will never know a time when lockdown drills weren’t a part of the norm.”
As law enforcement’s presence becomes more common within the school system so will the sight of their protective gear and guns. Bennett stated SROs are equipped to defend and protect students so it is crucial that they are equipped to respond quickly and are able to reduce or eliminate any imminent threat to students or staff. The increased presence of law enforcement will more than likely overshadow the fact that more guns will be upon school grounds, added London Police Chief Stewart Walker.
“The visualization of a police officer on site will do a couple of things,” Van Zant said. “It will deter people who seek to do harm who will meet an immediate resistance from law enforcement. Hopefully, it will give the children a peace of mind and for the parents, a comfort.”
“Ultimately, we want to make sure citizens here are safe, just like we want to make sure the students are safe. We want to go home safe at night too because we’ve got families. It’s what we strive for everyday,” Dotson said.
Over the past year, deputies and detectives from the Laurel County Sheriff’s Office have been conducting training focused on the rapid response to a violent intruder in schools, churches, and local businesses. This training goes above and beyond state requirements for law enforcement by 32 more hours per deputy, per year. Of the 35 officers at the LPD, 25 have had Advanced Rapid Response training and continue to have training at school facilities during and after school hours.
In the future, Van Zant stated the Task Force will extend its collaborative efforts to the school board members, Kentucky Vehicle Enforcement, Kentucky State Police, Laurel County Fire Alliance, Kentucky Department of Public Safety, London-Laurel County 9-1-1 Communications Center, Laurel County Health Department and Ambulance Inc. of Laurel County. This collaborative effort will not only standardize the response between multiple emergency agencies, but will also encourage the flow of accurate information, he said.
“I want help in the schools. It’s hard for two guys (SROs) to cover that population of students. Whatever it takes, I think that we should do it,” Dotson said.
Over the next six months all Laurel County Sheriff’s deputies will be participating in mock response training drills at various county schools.