MIAMI (CBSMiami) – One year ago a crazed young man burst into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut, fatally shooting 20 students and six staff members before killing himself as police moved in.
The massacre brought Miami-Dade schools and others to ramp up anti-terror efforts.
“We’ve re-energized that. I’ve made sure that officers have got training,” said Miami Dade Schools Police Chief Ian Moffett Friday, the day before the one year anniversary of the Sandy Hook bloodbath. “We’ve sent them to schools resource officers training, and the recent active shooter training that the feds are pushing out.”
Since Sandy Hook Miami-Dade has budgeted 40 new school officers, and reviewed detailed blueprints of every school with every major police agency. Knowing the layout of a school will assist arriving officers in locating the shooter or shooters.
School district police continue to hold practice drills with other law enforcement organizations where officers quickly enter a school and hunt down the threat. That speed is of the essence is a lesson learned painfully from the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado in 1999. In that case police waited for back up help to amass, and the delay cost lives.
At Miami-Dade’s Law Enforcement Officers’ Memorial High, a magnet school students are learning a variety of criminal justice and police procedures, including how to coordinate help at a school or other mass shooting scene when the call comes.
“We are now the second school in the state that is offering a 911 telecommunications program,” said Principal Christopher Shinn. “Our students do get certified in 911 dispatch.”
Using a high tech system, teachers in the school can hit a panic button alerting police from any computer in the building or with strategically placed foot pads. There is a computer in every room.
“This is a reassuring system,” said teacher Dwight Stevens. “The students love it, the teachers love it.”
Schools have, unfortunately, evolved to a place where they have more to worry about than madmen with guns invading their space. At Coral Gables High in 2009, a student stabbed a classmate to death over what he thought was a nasty look. At Barbara Goleman High in 2012, security video caught one kid stabbing another in what turned out to be a case of self defense. Police concluded the student who pulled a small pocket knife was fending off a hulking bully.
Chief Moffett says his department works closely with school “trust counselors” in identifying bullying issues and students who might have emotional or psychological problems that could lead to violence.
“Regarding bullying, when it transpires, we do home visits. We talk to the kids, we talk to the parents,” Moffett said. “We want to make sure we have a safe learning environment and that effort extends beyond the school.”
The issue of school safety may have peaked when South Pointe Elementary on Miami Beach entered a nationwide contest to win a grant for $200,000 worth of security enhancements at the school. Voting in the competition ends Friday. Votes can be cast for the Miami Beach school by texting “South Pointe Elementary School” to 99222.
The sad lesson of Columbine, Sandy Hook and South Pointe: A cloak of innocence that once enshrouded our schools has been removed.