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Poway Unified School Safety Panel discusses Dec. 1 threat at elementary school | #schoolsaftey

Poway Unified School District held a School Safety Panel on Wednesday to discuss what is being done and what more can be done after a Dec. 1 threat to student safety at Shoal Creek Elementary School.

San Diego police arrested a 38-year-old man the same day on suspicion of threatening to commit a mass shooting at the Carmel Mountain Ranch school, said police Lt. Adam Sharki in a news release. Police had received a tip from a third party, Sharki said.

The man was arraigned Dec. 5 on a felony charge of making criminal threats, according to police officials. The court granted a gun violence restraining order, which prohibits the suspect from possessing or purchasing any firearms. The judge issued a no-bail hold to keep the suspect in custody, and a criminal protective order was issued to protect Shoal Creek, Sharki said.

Poway Unified Associate Superintendent of Student Support Services Greg Mizel, one of the panelists, said the meeting addressing “threat assessment and response” was convened with the goal of ensuring students, staff and schools are safe.

Other panelists who met in the district’s Community Room were San Diego Police Capt. Mike Holden, San Diego County Chief Deputy District Attorney Rachel Solov, San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott, and San Diego City Council member Marni von Wilpert of District 5.

A court hearing in the case is scheduled for March 5, and the maximum penalty with a conviction is three years in state prison, Solov told the audience of about 60 people.

When questioned by parents about specifics on the school threat, Solov said they were bound by legal ethics to keep details confidential.

Holden added that investigators do not want to compromise the potential for prosecuting a suspect.

“As a parent and grandparent I share your concerns,” Holden said. “But I don’t want to take the risk of compromising the process. Information will become public through the courts. Your concern supports this case.”

Elliott said she commends the person who made the call Dec. 1, alerting law enforcement to the potential threat. She urged the audience to pay attention to warning signs, or “red flags,” and call the police if they suspect a threat. If there are enough signs, the police will contact her office, which can petition the court for a gun violence restraining order to “take guns out of the hands” of suspects, she said.

“We don’t need a crime to happen,” said Elliott, adding that the restraining order can be in effect for up to five years. “We want to prevent it from happening. This is a crisis intervention tool. People who have access to guns can be dangerous in the right circumstances.”

Holden said after the threat, law enforcement had the suspect in custody within three hours.

“These are very serious situations and we will investigate to the fullest extent that we can,” he said.

Mizel said a police officer was on the Shoal Creek campus throughout the day and multiple law enforcement units were stationed in the neighborhood. A lockdown of the campus was not necessary because the suspect was not known to be at or near the campus, he said.

“In this case, everything that was supposed to happen did happen with lightning speed,” Mizel said, adding that school counselors and therapists are doing “great work” addressing mental health concerns of students.

Solov said violence such as school shootings are not typically impromptu acts, but follow a pathway starting with grievance, to research and planning, preparation and finally an attack. The majority of incidents involve “leakage,” or someone who knew the suspect was thinking about and planning an attack.

“Give us opportunities to intervene along the way and get the person on the right track,” Solov said. “I want to stress that you pay attention. If you see something, say something.

“The only way we can intervene is if information is passed on to us,” she said, telling the audience they can make reports to the school district, law enforcement or on the district attorney’s website at sdcda.org under the “preventing crime” and “school threats” tabs.

In 2022, there were 46 threats reported in the county and of those, eight resulted in criminal prosecution, Solov said.

Mizel said student ID cards also include a telephone number to report concerns by calling 1-844-PUSD-TIP.

Von Wilpert, who chairs the city of San Diego’s Public Safety Committee, told the group it is better to make a report and err on the side of being wrong, then it is not to make a report.

“The key message is we are not helpless,” she said. “We can stop shootings but only if you say something.

“To obtain a gun violence restraining order a judge has to order it,” she added. “The justice system will handle it.”

The father of a preschooler at Shoal Creek said he wants to partner with officials but his family feels scared and confused, particularly after visiting Las Vegas just a few days before a mass shooting occurred there. He said he only found out about the Dec. 1 incident at Shoal Creek through news reports nearly a week later.

“I thank you for the quick response but the level of communication needs to be better,” the man said. “We want to find out what steps we can do to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Christine Paik, Poway Unified spokeswoman, said the district will look into why the preschool parents received separate communications from the rest of the school and make necessary changes.

Other attendees had suggestions for making improvements at the schools.

The father of two children attending Deer Canyon Elementary School in Rancho Penasquitos said he was grateful for the quick response but asked if resource officers could be stationed at the school campuses.

Holden, the police captain, said 28 of the 40 schools in his division are in the Poway district and it’s not possible to have a dedicated officer at every school, every day. However, he said juvenile service teams who know the administrators and schools are alert to addressing threats and reports of alleged threats early on.

Threat assessment teams are available to identify patterns of behavior that indicate a threat, Mizel said. Parents of children who are targets of threats are notified, he said.

The parent of a fourth-grader at Highland Ranch Elementary School in Carmel Mountain Ranch asked if metal detectors could be installed at the campuses. He said security cameras were ordered for the school 10 months ago but have not been installed.

Mizel said the district has been investing in security features for the schools the past five years, including improved gates, fences, cameras and in the case of Shoal Creek, a buzzer system to allow parents to be screened before entering the campus.

Council member von Wilpert said 500 smart cameras that can read license plates are being installed in the city of San Diego and those types of cameras can be considered for installation near schools.

The mother of a Shoal Creek student asked what can be done to ensure the students’ safety after a suspect, if found guilty, is released from prison.

Mizel said that may not be something the school district can control. The reality is people move back into a neighborhood after they serve their time and are released from prison, he said.

However, Solov said some released prisoners are monitored through probation or supervision, and some are helped by long-term management strategies such as mental health treatment. Criminal protective orders may also be issued to prevent a person from coming within a certain distance of a school, she said.

A parent to two children at Shoal Creek suggested a Neighborhood Watch program be set up. Holden said he could have officers help organize one.

“Neighborhood Watch is a fantastic idea and we’ll work 100 percent with you on that,” Holden said.

Mizel also recommended parents get involved in school site safety councils, which meet quarterly and review the physical safety of campuses.

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