As I arrived for work Thursday morning, Nov. 14, I received emergency messages from the National Threat Assessment Center in Washington, D.C., about a school shooting that had just unfolded in Santa Clarita, California – which stopped me in my tracks.
I had just sent my senior command staff to the National Threat Assessment Center 2019 School Safety Workshop in Rosemont. We partnered with the Brookfield and North Riverside police departments as well as the staff from Riverside-Brookfield High School, District 96 and St. Mary’s Catholic School to train and work collaboratively on issues surrounding school violence.
On Wednesday night, I had attended a school safety seminar put on by Riverside-Brookfield High School staff. Also in attendance at this workshop was Brookfield Police Chief Ed Petrak, Brookfield Lt. Terry Schreiber and North Riverside Commander Dave Kopka.
We had just completed two days of intensive school violence workshops designed to help law enforcement agencies enhance their knowledge in these situations to not only prevent them but in responding to them.
There is no question that preventing school violence must be a collaborative effort, not only between police and school staff but the public and parents. Students need to understand the importance of notifying school officials or police when they feel uncomfortable about a possible volatile situation or another student’s behavior.
We can no longer rely on late reports, delayed information and threats that come into us that people deem just to be a joke. The surge in school violence is crossing all boundaries. It is happening in lower-level grade schools, middle schools, high schools and colleges.
While you may see in the days that follow new proposed legislation, what really needs to happen is clear immediate communication between parents, students, school staff and police.
As you can imagine, shooting situations require an enormous amount of police resources in addition to the immediate response. Even investigating school threats that end up being not being factual take a tremendous amount of time, coordination, multiple police agencies and staffing to handle and investigate the threats properly.
As chief, I will be going to Springfield to lobby for legislation to establish one clearing house for the state of Illinois for school safety-related issues. We need a single source that will assist us in funding, training, education, mental health services, police and fire response training, and school staff participation.
We should also include student councils, student advisors and other stakeholders not only in the school but in the community to be a part of the discussion to define ways of preventing these tragic incidents.
The threat of school violence and the response of my agency and other agencies around us is a situation that weighs on me heavily — it keeps me up at night. There is no greater mission for law enforcement than to protect our school-aged children from violent predators.
I pledge to the residents of Riverside that as your chief of police, my agency will do everything humanly possible to ensure the safety of the students who attend Riverside Schools.
Thomas Weitzel is police chief for the village of Riverside.