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Cooperation a key part of school safety, leaders at summit agree | #schoolsaftey

EDWARDSVILLE — Cooperation and communication between law enforcement, educators and others is one of the keys to fighting school violence, especially mass casualty events, according to speakers at a school safety summit Monday in Edwardsville.

The summit, the third held by Madison County Regional Superintendent Robert Werden, drew about 60 people in law enforcement, education, mental health and other professions.

Speakers included U.S. Marshal David Davis; Brenden Kelly, director of the Illinois State Police; Ranly Killian, an assistant U.S. attorney; and FBI Special agents Nick Ponsano and Rick Box.

“We try to keep the politics out of it, and we focus on what we know works,” Werden said. “Any time we can build relationships, network with people, and introduce people to work together in the future, that’s a good thing.”

In addition to Werthen, Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Haine, Chief Deputy Marcos Pulido and Deborah Humphrey of the Madison County Mental Health Department gave short introductions at the start of the program.

“There’s nothing more important these days than school safety,” said Davis, noting he and others in his office “mainly” came to listen.

“We just want to let you guys know that we are always ready to assist if something happens in Madison County,” he added. “We always have our task force people on the street in Madison County on a daily basis.”

He noted that the U.S. Marshal’s Service is in charge of security at federal courthouses.

“So we train constantly on active shooter drills, so in my opinion there is nothing more important than being trained and being ready.”

Using the law

While also talking about cooperation, Kelly discussed the ISP’s “growing responsibility” for gun safety, specifically sometimes controversial “Red Flag” and “Clear and Present Danger” laws and the ability to keep guns away and remove them from potentially dangerous people.

He noted that laws give families the ability to seek to remove firearms from dangerous people

In general, he said Clear and Present Danger laws enable law enforcement to take action when someone who can legally own a firearm either makes or carries out threats or does something else that indicates they are a danger to themselves or others.

“Schools also have the ability, along with law enforcement, to report a clear and present danger,” Kelly said, adding that educators are “mandatory reporters.”

He later clarified that as applying to administrators.

Changes in the law have increased the number of reports.

“We’re getting better and better at that,” he said, adding that local agencies are also improving communication.

“Law enforcement has greatly increased the number of reports they are making. We are identifying thousands of individuals…identifying them as being clear and present dangers, intervening and then permanently or temporarily disposing of those firearms.”

Kelly said school administrators may not know if someone has access to firearms, but making a report can help police if someone attempts to purchase weapons or takes other threatening actions.

‘National phenomenon’

Kelly also talked about the problem of hoaxes.

“This is a national phenomenon,” he said. “You can’t ignore it. You have to respond. If you don’t something terrible can happen.”

He also noted that some hoaxes are coming from overseas.

Part of Box’s discussion was about an April 12 incident which included hoaxes at Granite City and Collinsville high schools.

Box noted those incidents were part of almost two dozen that day in Illinois, and more than 200 nationwide.

He said because it was SAT day, the initial thought was that some students wanted out of the test, but then reports came from different parts of the country. The threats were eventually traced overseas.

Box declined to talk in great detail about the case.

“They’re from a country we can’t extradite, but we’re not too concerned about them making any more calls,” he said, without elaborating.

He noted that with “swatting,” people want attention. He said there has been a change from bomb threats to active shooter calls.

“They always say the shooter is inside the school,” he said.

Box also talked in detail about the importance of 911 dispatchers or others who take the initial threat calls, saying some of the things they look at are the accent and demeanor of the caller, whether there are multiple calls, the background noises and follow-up questions.

“Dispatchers doing their jobs asking the right questions really help,” he said.

Other threats

Killian reiterated some of the same topics as other speakers, but noted two other types of threats to students: sexting and drugs.

He noted that sexting continues to be a major problem with FBI agents and prosecutors “working with students in your schools.”

Killian said two especially concerning aspects of sexting are when someone obtains photographs and attempts to blackmail students, threatening to send photos to friends, parents and others.

“This puts these kids in a terrible situation; there have been suicides around the country,” he said.

The other is when someone wants more images, then attempts to meet with the victims.

Killian said drugs, especially fentanyl or other drugs mixed with fentanyl, is still a “huge” problem.

“More people die of overdoses than gun violence,” he said. “In the United States, 265 people die every day from drug overdoses.”

He noted that most prosecutions involving juveniles occur at the state level, because the federal system is not set up to deal with juveniles.

“We are now trying to assist in any way we can,” he said.

‘Super valuable’

The entire school safety program lasted about an hour.

Roxana school district Superintendent Debra Kreutztrager said the summits are always helpful.

“Every meeting we’ve had has been super valuable,” she said.

The district had its own incident in 2014, when three juveniles called in a false shooting report at the high school, triggering a massive law enforcement response.

The three responsible, two then-15-year-olds and a 16-year-old, were charged as juveniles in the incident.

“It was unfortunate but we did learn,” she said, noting that officials continue to look at and improve safety plans.

“We are looking in the future at getting a school resource officer.”

“I’m very impressed with the information that was shared today,” Werden said after the summit. “The room takes on a very sincere tone and we work to share information that’s valuable to law enforcement and educators, all with the intent to keep our students safe.”

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