TORRINGTON – Earlier this summer, on the heels of the tragic Uvalde, Texas school shooting, the Telegram took a comprehensive look into school shootings with historical data, community policing programs and available mental health resources in a three-part series aimed at educating, informing and providing information as well as data to Goshen County residents.
Last week, various community members discussed the possibility of arming teachers with Goshen County School District (GCSD) in a series of round-table discussions. Also, last week, Torrington Police Department, Goshen County Sheriff’s Department, and Torrington High School (THS) were among some of the agencies statewide that participated in active school shooter training at THS, which came just one before a crisis was averted at the Dysart Unified School District in Surprise/El Mirage, Arizona.
Ahead of the training, TPD and the district advised members of the public and media partners that THS would be closed to the public and not to be alarmed due to the high volume of law enforcement agencies at the high school on-site for the training that took place on Thursday, Aug. 11. After the conclusion of the training, TPD gave media partners and the community a synopsis of what took place during the training.
“Over the past two days our agency hosted a regional law enforcement training event focused on responding to an active threat in a school environment,” Torrington Police Department Chief Matt Johnson stated. “In total, 23 law enforcement officers from Torrington Police Department, Goshen County Sheriff’s Office, Wyoming Highway Patrol and Wheatland Police Department were able to attend.”
“It’s incredibly critical that we get the chance to train together,” Johnson said. “For the agencies in Goshen County, we’re a small enough law enforcement resource, that a Wyoming trooper is as likely as a Goshen County sheriff’s deputy is as likely as a Torrington police officer to show up at a school by ourselves or together and need to respond. The ability to train together so that we have a good foundation of tactics, decision making and understanding of how to work together is critical.”
Adding, “the training was reality-based, challenging and highly intensive for the officers.”
The training offered officers a chance to experience some of the physiological changes they would experience in a force-on-force encounter. In addition, trainers provided them with information and coaching on how to overcome the effects of this type of stress on the body.
Back in June, in part two of the previously mentioned Telegram three-part series, Johnson previously explained TPD routinely participates in scenario-based training involving incidents that could potentially occur on school campuses.
“Certainly our aim is to ensure that it does not happen here, however, if it should happen here, we want our community to be secured in the fact that our officers and department are well equipped and trained,” Johnson previously told the Telegram. “We have plans with the Goshen County Sheriff’s Department in addition to plans with the school district (GCSD) to ensure we minimize harm or potential harm.”
“We owe a big thank you to Goshen County School District No. 1,” Johnson said. “Relationships in our community are ultimately what makes it safer. Law enforcement and public safety is a people business, and we have to be good at connecting with other stakeholders in our community and finding ways to work together. We are really fortunate to have a great relationship with Goshen County School District No. 1 which helps us to keep kids safe.”
At that time, and in his synopsis of the most recent training Goshen County law enforcement agencies participated in, Johnson said, “the department undergoes extensive scenario training – including active school shooter training three times a year; which includes live images, sounds and obstacles officers might encounter.”
“I don’t see how we can expect to keep our schools safe without implementing that sort of training on a regular basis. Our goal is to do this type of training every year,” Johnson said. “One of the sayings I’ve heard about training is that ‘as law enforcement officers we never rise to the level of the circumstances we are faced with; we sink to the level of our training.’ So, our goal is that we have a solid platform for our police officers and for other officers in our region to stand on when they are faced with that type of situation.”
“We hope and pray that we will never need to respond to a tragic event in our community,” Johnson wrote. “But, if tragedy does occur, we want law enforcement officers from all of the agencies in our area to have common training, tactics and decision making so that they can respond quickly and save precious lives.”
Johnson said, “it requires a tremendous amount of work to make a training event of this magnitude a reality. We are very grateful for the help we received to pull it together.”
Johnson thanked the district leadership for hosting the training at THS and Aaron Walsh for serving as the active shooter and role-playing the “bad guy” in the scenario where he was “struck with literally hundreds of marking rounds as the officers worked through the scenarios.”
Additionally, Johnson thanked the following participants for their roles: Torrington Emergency Manager Chuck Kenyon for planning and coordinating safety responsibilities during the training; Goshen County School District Technology Manager Bryan Foster for helping to manage access controls, building systems, technology needs and acting in the safety officer role; Torrington Volunteer Fire Department Chief Lance Petsch, Torrington Safety Coordinator (and retired chief) Billy Janes and Goshen County Fire Warden Bill Law for their roles as safety officers; THS Head Custodian Carol Watson and her team for “trusting us with the incredibly clean school; and Goshen County Sheriff’s Office along with the Wyoming Highway Patrol regional unit for allowing TPD and other agencies to use appropriate training equipment.
The scenario training at THS comes just one day before El Mirage Police Department, Surprise Police Department and Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department thwarted a potentially tragic shooting incident at Thompson Ranch Elementary on Aug. 12 in El Mirage, Ariz., a school with the K-12 Dysart Unified School District in Surprise, Ariz.
Dysart Unified School District spokesperson Renee Ryon told members of the media, “at Thompson Ranch Elementary School an individual that appeared to have a handgun unsuccessfully attempted to gain access to the campus via an exterior door. The campus immediately went into lockdown and the individual fled, never having gained access to the building.”
The district immediately placed six other nearby elementary, middle and high schools on lockdown and was lifted a little over an hour later once law enforcement had the suspect in custody without incident.
However, in the aftermath of notifying parents and community members, El Mirage Police Department Lt. Jimmy Chavez said three parents became “confrontational” and attempted to rush into the school to get their children “to protect their children”; those three parents were tased and eventually arrested. No updates about those parents are available at this time, however, Chavez told media partners that at least one parent had a firearm and at least one was taken to the hospital.
This incident in Arizona comes almost three months after the tragedy that unfolded in Uvalde, Texas at Robb Elementary, which left 19 students and two teachers dead and is the center of heavy criticism over its handling of the shooting.
According to El Mirage PD, the suspect left a “suspicious” package at the school before fleeing to avoid law enforcement; no district employee nor student was harmed during this incident.
Last week, community members asked and discussed the possibility of GCSD opting into Wyoming HB0194, or W.S. 21-3-132, which would allow districts to arm teachers and staff, with board members in at least two of the three round-table meetings aimed at bridging the communication gap between the district and community. A spirited and engaging discussion centered around what the Wyoming law allows and disallows.
Wyoming HB0194, now W.S. 21-3-132, quickly passed through the House and passed 46 to 14 after its third reading on February 1, 2017. The bill quickly passed through the Senate and passed 28 to 2 after its third reading on February 27, 2017. The bill became law, or W.S. 21-3-132, on March 16, 2017 by then Governor Matt Mead (R). Former Wyoming state representatives for Goshen County Hans Hunt (R) and Dan Kirkbride (R) both voted to pass WYOHB0194. Former Wyoming state Senator for Goshen County, now current state Treasurer Curt Meier (R) also voted to pass WYOHB0194. The bill went into effect without issue on July 1, 2017.
Out of the 48 districts in Wyoming, currently, five school districts have completed the necessary requirements that allow teachers and staff to carry concealed on school property. Those districts by approval date are Uinta County School District #1 in Evanston, starting March 2018; Park County School District #6 in Cody, starting April 2018; Fremont County School District #1 in Lander, starting July 2019; Washakie County School District #2 in Ten Sleep, starting September 2019; and Campbell County School District #1 in Gillette, starting April 2020.
According to Wyoming State Superintendent of Public Instruction Brian Schroeder, about 15 other districts statewide recently informed his office those districts are now seeking guidance into opting into W.S. 21-3-132; at this point, GCSD has not formally or officially announced an intent to opt-in or not, however, was a topic of discussion between community members board members last week.
Chief Johnson previously stated community policing programs such as the department's reinvigoration of the modernized Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program and the addition of a second school resource officer (SRO) in Torrington in conjunction with the county and districts efforts to address youth mental, social and emotional health concerns earlier helps keep GCSD safer. He also previously told the Telegram that TPD has certified trained officers that meet the state requirements to be considered by the district as certified firearms instructors for district employees seeking to be able to concealed carry at the district if the district opts-in. Goshen County Sheriff's Department is currently working toward securing grants to bring SRO’s into other GCSD outside of Torrington city limits.
When asked in June about current and/or future plans for GCSD to possibly look into opting into W.S. 21-3-132 for its staff members, GCSD Superintendent Ryan Kramer wrote, “The threat of violence against students and educators is inexcusable. We need to be focused on the root causes of the issues, including treatment for mental disorders. The safety and security of our staff and students are of primary importance. Working with local law enforcement personnel who are our local experts in these situations is how we can improve our systems. Implementing evidence-based practices is what we do in schools and need to continue that practice when investigating solutions to this issue not only in gun violence but in other types of violence that exist in our schools.”
Kramer went on to state, “We continue to have a great partnership with our local law enforcement personnel. We have been working on expanding the SRO programs and cooperatively working on grants to support best practices in addressing school safety concerns.”
“Regarding arming teachers specifically, the issue is highly complex,” Kramer stated. “Carrying a concealed weapon in an active shooter situation requires a radically different skill set than what we have trained teachers to do.”
“What we have learned in the past, adding additional expectations on teachers, who we have already added so much to those expectations, is not a solution to an even more significant issue,” Kramer wrote. “Other concerns also relate to training, the proficiency of carrying a concealed firearm in an active shooter situation, and the liability of the individual and the district to have employees carry concealed weapons on school property is something that needs to be discussed in detail and reviewed with experts in our community.”
According to Wyoming law, in order for a district employee to be able to carry concealed on school property, each district board must first post a public notice of intent to discuss, hear from the community and vote to opt into W.S. 21-3-132. Districts may authorize employees who hold a concealed carry permit to carry on school grounds if they met certain state requirements, however, districts are free to add additional restrictions and requirements in district-approved policy that meets and/or exceeds the state minimum requirements as listed by the law.
Of the five current districts that have opted in, all have added additional requirements, such as increasing firing, safety and scenario training allotment durations, stipulating what sort of concealed carry gear is acceptable and what sort of scenario-based training is required.
A number of agencies in-state and nationally offer targeted active school shooting and active school threat training for districts, teachers and administrators, including nationally recognized gun-safety and training organization ALICE Training Institute.
ALICE Training Institute is the brainchild of Greg Crane, a former Dallas-Ft. Worth, Texas law enforcement officer who was also already a firearms and active shooting instructor, whose wife, Lisa, was an elementary school principal when the devastating Columbine High School Shooting in Littleton, Colorado unfolded which left 15 dead and injured 24, on April 20, 1999. At the time, Columbine was the deadliest school shooting on record.
For more information regarding historical school shooting data visit torringtontelegram.com and search part two of the three part-series the Telegram previously did, titled: ‘A look at historical school shootings.’
According to several conversations between the Crane’s regarding school safety and lockdown protocols, many of which are still implemented today, Greg said, “the abnormally high number of killed and wounded in the mass shootings of the 90s made perfect sense – these lockdown responses made people easy targets.” After a lot of research and questioning the school board where his wife was employed as principal, Greg found, “in the end, when the bullets started flying, the staff and students were on their own to ‘figure it out’.”
By December 2000, following the fatal shooting of an officer who also served as school resource officer (SRO) while on duty, the Crane’s saw how their worlds as school administrator and law enforcement officer crossed and there was a need for both professions to work together at protecting each other and the greater community. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Uniform Crime Report (UCR) of 2000, the number of law enforcement officers targeted and killed while on duty rose by 21.4% from 1999 following Columbine. There were 51 officers targeted in 2000 in the aftermath of Columbine and 42 officers were killed in 1999, most of those occured after the events of Columbine.
Today, ALICE Active Shooter Training is used by government agencies from the federal to hyper local levels, districts nationwide, law enforcement agencies from the federal level down to the hyper local levels and specialized agencies whose mission is to respond to school threats; the organization also trains and equips regular citizens through its training programs.
“Our vision is to empower all citizens with the skills and knowledge to respond when shots are fired,” Crane added. “If the police cannot be there in time to help, the next best thing is to prepare our civilian population to help themselves until public safety arrives.”
In its description of what active school and threat training is and is not, provided to districts, teachers and administrators, ALICE details that the main and first role of all school faculty is to secure their students and to not leave them; the role of an armed teacher and/or administrator is to be in a defensive position and not an offensive position. According to ALICE, heroics are best left to law enforcement agencies. The goal is that no teacher and/or administrator would actually need to unholster and fire a firearm if they follow proper procedures and training, but that they have it as a ready and available tool, should they become confronted face-to-face with an active threat intent on doing them and their students lethal harm.
“When facing extreme violence, a passive lockdown-only response may not always keep us safe,” ALICE Training Institute President Greg Crane states in his opening message to districts interested in seeking training services for its faculty. “In Fact, it’s no longer the preferred response of federal and state agencies. People need options to respond based on their circumstances. Proactive options-based strategies help them feel empowered to make the best decision rather than hopelessly endure a difficult situation.”
“No single response fits all active shooter situations,” Crane added. “However, making sure each individual knows his or her options for response and is prepared to react decisively can save valuable time and help minimize the loss of life.”
ALICE Training also details that when it trains districts, administrators and teachers in specifically active school shooter scenarios, it advises participants of a multitude of ways to safely use less than lethal ways to stop a school threat before resorting to disabling a shooter if the shooter should happen to break barriers and enter a participants classroom before resorting to lethal tactics.
“Lethal tactics are the very last resort in our training program for districts,” Crane added in his welcome statement.
This training program specifically designed for active school shooter and threat situations is offered and available to local law enforcement agencies to work together in preparing district employees who voluntarily would like to conceal carry at schools in an effort to deter and help protect the school. Three of the five districts in Wyoming recently required ALICE training and/or similar training as a district requirement that goes above and beyond the state minimum requirements.
Wyoming state law stipulations and requirements of armed district employees include: an initial course of live firearm firing and safety training of at least 16 hours, with eight hours of “scenario-based training using nonlethal training,” but strongly advises active shooter training; courses must include basic firearms and ammunition training in addition to proper concealed carry training where instructors advise best practices on how to concealed carry and what products are best to use; and district employees seeking to concealed carry must be firearms certified and continue annual recurrent training of not less than 12 hours with an approved firearms instructor each year. For more information visit, www.alicetraining.com.
Some districts in Wyoming and other districts in states that also allow districts to opt into carrying concealed on K-12s during the school day, have required an increased amount of specific initial and on-going training. Two districts in Wyoming stipulate that initial safety training must meet or exceed six hours and firing safety training must meet or exceed a minimum of 20 hours; those districts also increased annual training requirements to 15 hours or more. Some districts have also stipulated a time frame during the school year in which district employees need to have a certain percentage of that training completed. For example, 25% of annual training needs to be completed prior to the end of the first quarter of school, or 50% of annual training needs to be completed prior to Christmas break, etc. Wyoming law does not stipulate how much districts go above and beyond state law minimums, only that district policies must meet and/or exceed those minimums.
Additionally, a school district must then establish an application and approval process for employees possessing a valid, active Wyoming concealed carry permit. Despite the state being a Constitutional carry state on July 1, 2021, state law still requires district employees to obtain a concealed carry permit through the county prior to finishing the district application process. A district must also establish training requirements (as detailed above), curricula, instructor qualifications (which are subject to approval by local law enforcement) that meet or exceed state law stipulations. State law requires participants to meet minimum requirements to be firearms certified, both in safety and firing.
Once training is completed and individuals are approved to carry concealed on school property, districts must notify local law enforcement agencies of its employees who have been approved to carry concealed at school in confidential, non-public records files. The district would also have to designate an individual at the school to be the school liaison with law enforcement to ensure these confidential reports are regularly updated with Torrington Police Department, Goshen County Sheriff’s Department and Wyoming Highway Patrol. Schools outside of Torrington would report to local city/town law enforcement agencies in addition to the sheriff’s department and state department.
Employees who opt to carry concealed at school must carry the firearm in a secured and concealed manner on their person or keep it in a concealed biometric container or lock box within the direct control of the individual at all times.
All gun sales in the U.S. generally come with a cable lock and/or lockbox per federal law; a biometric lockbox would be an additional security measure and cost to the individual.
For more information visit, www.edu.wyoming.gov/downloads/safety/SchoolSafetyGuidance.pdf, www.wyomingdci.wyo.gov/criminal-justice-information-services-cjis/concealed-firearm-permit, https://www.fbi.gov/about/partnerships/office-of-partner-engagement/active-shooter-resources, https://www.alicetraining.com/our-program/alice-training/ and www.handgunlaw.us/states/wyoming.pdf.