Security measures in place at local schools, more being considered

Published 7:00 am Saturday, February 17, 2018

On Wednesday tragedy struck Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida when Nikolas Cruz pulled a fire alarm and opened fire on students as they exited their classrooms. According to coverage by the Associated Press, 17 people were killed and 13 were hospitalized, including two in intensive care.

While no school shootings have occurred in Mississippi since 1997, the risk is there. In light of Wednesday’s incident, many school district administrators across Pearl River County are revisiting their district’s security policies to see how things can be improved.

The Picayune School District currently employs four armed resource officers who travel from school to school patrolling, said Maj. Chad Dorn with the Picayune Police Department. Dorn serves as the commander of the District’s resource officers. School resource officers patrol the District’s campuses, checking for anything out of the ordinary. Currently, the Picayune School District only has one metal detector, which has been installed in the District’s alternative school. Dorn said that more metal detectors may not deter a person from bringing a gun to a school due to each one’s open nature.

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However, even without metal detectors, officers at the Picayune School District do everything in their power to provide a safe environment for students. The school holds preparatory drills for students and teachers, as well as active shooter training for local law enforcement officers.

Dorn says that he and his staff strive to be proactive since the possibility of a school shooting is “always in the back of our minds.” Dorn also encourages students and parents to keep an eye out for anything suspicious. If anything concerning or out of the ordinary is discovered, Dorn suggests it be reported immediately.

Within the Pearl River County School District, a zero-tolerance policy is in place concerning the presence of firearms on campus. Just like in Picayune, the only metal detector installed within PRC’s District is at the alternative school.

However, PRC School District’s Campus Police Chief Brandon Herrin said adding more metal detectors at all campuses would be a great thing.

But the District currently has three resource officers on staff, so Herrin said there is not enough manpower to oversee metal detector operation and to check students in every morning. Herrin did say, however, that schools across the PRC district are taking different approaches this year to improve security.

Upgraded security cameras are being set to go online throughout the District sometime this week. In addition to cameras, new fencing has been installed around the high and junior high school campuses with alarms on every gate. In addition to these procedures, Herrin says that every school is mandated by the state to conduct regular safety drills, including 9 evacuation drills, 4 lockdown drills, and tornado and earthquake drills.

While the Poplarville School District has two full-time security officers, Poplarville School District Superintendent Carl Merritt says there are other measures in place to protect students and teachers within his care.

Every school in the Poplarville School District is within one mile of the local police department. The District has high-quality security cameras at every campus to monitor activity that are capable of scanning the entire District and react to any incidents as they occur. The high school’s resource officer has a hand-held metal detector if needed.

Merritt says he and his staff are always looking for new ways to improve security across the District which include annual meetings with local law enforcement officials to go over current polices and gather suggestions for improvement. Merritt said every step possible is made to ensure campuses are as secure as possible.

In regards to the shooting on Wednesday, Merritt said, “I feel so deeply sorry for everyone affected. I pray this never happens again.” 

He also said that he hopes something can be learned from the recent tragedy to improve security and ensure it never happens in Pearl River County.

Parents and teachers can help deter such incidents from occurring by watching for warning signs. Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood’s website has a list of such signs that teachers can use to identify students who may have the potential of hurting themselves or others. The list includes looking for students who exhibit antisocial behavior, are a victim of abuse, experienced bullying, show no sympathy towards others and have a history of substance abuse, among other things.

According to a study done by the American Counseling Association,  “school violence has increased by 19% in the 21st century.”

According to the study, “almost 98 percent of the attackers experienced a personal loss prior to the attack.” In addition, about 17 percent were diagnosed with some kind of mental disorder.