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Chief of police discusses school shooting protocols

December 9, 2018

Six years ago on Dec. 14, 2012, a gunman shot his way into an elementary school and committed a massacre that is considered the fourth deadliest single-person mass shooting in American history. After shooting his mother in their home, the gunman went to the school, where he shot 27 people, including staff, students and himself. The youngest victims were only 6 years of age.

Although Sandy Hook is over 2,000 miles away from River Falls, their circumstances are not rare. Since the Sandy Hook shooting, there has been another 1,911 mass shootings in American history, according to Vox News’ calculations. Over 40 of those have occurred on schools and campuses, much like UW – River Falls.

“Anytime that you have a situation where there’s potential for mass casualties, the loss of life – whether it’s one life or multiple lives – is a loss to the entire community,” Chief of Police Karl Fleury stated. “It’s a tragedy, and it’s something that has unfortunately become more frequent. This sort of atrocity is something that not only impacts the individual victims and their families, but it impacts the whole community and society.”

Maintaining the sanctuary of the community is a large part of Chief Fleury’s job. Among other duties, he monitors and supervises law enforcement on campus, oversees parking violations and emergency management. “It’s a whole list of duties and assignments, but overall it’s the law enforcement perspective,” Fleury summarized.

Currently, the University of Wisconsin – River Falls has considerable safety measures established to prevent and prepare the school for an Active Armed Assailant. “Of course,” Fleury added. “While it’s certainly something we would love not to happen, there are a number of protocols in place.”

UWRF has, among other safety measures, an emergency notification system. “It’s a system that notifies all of our campus that there’s an emergency situation taking place. We would put out that notification and it would go out to all the email accounts,” Fleury said.

The notification would inform the campus if there was an active shooter or another threat, in which safety procedures would vary. If there was an Active Armed Assailant, the system would tell students to either seek shelter or follow the Run!-Hide!-Fight! protocol while the police responded to the threat.

Terminology is important to touch on before elaborating. “Active Armed Assailant” is the umbrella term law enforcement uses to reference an assailant armed with not only a firearm, but possibly other weapons such as a knife, a pipe or even a vehicle. “Anything that could do damage or inflict injury,” Fleury explained. “It’s a catch-all that gets people’s attention.”

Although the Run!-Hide!-Fight! protocol is rather self-explanatory, Fleury elaborated on how to determine which of course of action is appropriate. “’Run!-Hide!-Fight!’ is simple terminology that people should keep in mind. If an attack is happening on one side of the campus and you’re on the other, you can flee and escape. If it’s happening in a building where you are, you may have to hide. Barricade the door, turn off the lights, find a safe place to conceal yourself that offers you some protection,” Fleury explained. “If the individual, the assailant, is breaking in or coming in through the door, you have to make a determination at that point in time whether or not to fight. If it’s a life and death situation, you have to decide.”

He recommends looking around for potential items that can serve as protection, whether it be a stapler, a fire extinguisher, or breaking a leg off a chair.

“Fight,” Fleury added. “Is the last resort.”

Fleury trusts that most students have exposure to these methods through training programs taught throughout their education. “We also provide information, handouts outlining some of the protocols and procedures, making our students more aware,” Fleury stated. “I think all the incoming freshman might’ve got one in their packet or on a table, but there’s so much information that it gets overwhelming.”

For other tips on how to be prepared, the school website has an Emergency Response Guide provided by Risk Management. The website also offers a profile of an assailant and possible behavioral indicators.

Fleury, however, says to take the list with a grain of salt. “We’ll narrow it down. If someone’s making threats to harm or do some type of incident as far as a shooting, or if they make a comment about mass shooting or something to that effect, those would be things of concern. There are many gambits of other things, a whole list of things – but certainly, if someone says something like that, you should key us in,” he said.

Students should not be afraid to report suspicious behavior. “That’s why we’re here. We have officers on duty 24/7. There’s a slogan that we use when I’m doing training: If you see something, say something. If we don’t know about it, we can’t do anything in regards to it,” Fleury said. “If you have a concern, don’t discount it. Sometimes we talk ourselves out of reporting, justify it or say ‘oh, it’s nothing’. Take that time, report it. If it turns out to be nothing, that’s okay. At least it’s guaranteed that it’s going to get to us, and it’s going to get to us in a timely manner that way,” he said. 

However, while it’s his job to ensure the community’s safety, Fleury also emphasized the need for students to take responsibility for themselves.

“You’ll see, fortunately here at the university, we have a great staff, great people here, great students here. We are a community. Unfortunately, our officers can’t be in every place at all times, so students have to take some of that ownership of that. Say to yourself: ‘This is our university, my university, I’m a student of this university, I’m a citizen of this community.’ Take pride in that, and if you see something, say something. We encourage that, and we need your help to keep this campus safe and our community safe. It falls upon all of us to work together.”

It’s in times like these, where tragedies like Sandy Hook and Columbine have become more and more frequent, that campuses like UWRF need to take the initiative to secure the safety of its students. In the unfortunate instance that a shooting does occur, the university does have procedures in place to jump-start recovery. “We are cognizant and aware that that potential is there for a shooting. Would resources be made available for our students? Absolutely,” Fleury said firmly. “Would we bring in counselors, provide whatever services necessary for our students? Yes. It would be a recovery period for our institution, for our university, to deal with the aftermath of such a tragedy.”

In honor of past victims of needless violence and to prevent the need for recovery, Fleury encourages students to take charge of their safety. Whether it be reporting suspicious behavior, researching the Run!-Hide!-Fight! techniques on the University website or simply taking note of the possible emergency exits near the classrooms, students can help to ensure that the community remains free from tragedy.

Editor’s note: Earlier versions of this article regarding UWRF safety protocols and the sixth anniversary of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting incorrectly stated that there were 20 victims of the Sandy Hook shooting. There were, in fact, 20 children and six staff members killed, as well as the gunman. Prior to the school shooting, the gunman also shot his mother in their home. There were a total of 28 deaths.