The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on December 14, 2012 sent America into a grief it had never known. The idea that anyone could carry arms into a school facility and ruthlessly send bullets into 26 people, the majority of whom were not even old enough to remember the tragedy of 9/11, shook America to its core.
A call began across America for a solution to the problem. Gun control laws were introduced statewide, and people pushed for mental healthcare reform. But what did Las Positas College, a community college an entire country away from Sandy Hook, do in the wake of the tragedy?
“After Sandy Hook, the college put together a committee task force,” Sean Prather, LPC Campus Safety Supervisor, said. “It’s not just ‘Oh, we’re going to get guns.’ It’s more like overall prevention.”
Over the course of the spring semester, the newly formed Active Shooter/Critical Incident Task Force met a multitude of times to write up reports for the president. These reports included a series of recommendations that dealt with prevention against any critical situation at LPC. In light of the Sandy Hook shooting, the need for the task force was obvious.
“How do we respond if, God forbid, there is an active shooter or some type of armed incident here?” said Mark Tarte, Administration of Justice program coordinator at LPC and facilitator for the task force.
The task force was composed of a variety of individuals at LPC. Dayna Barbero, LPC Nurse Practitioner; Ron Johansen, LPC Fire Service Technology program coordinator and Jim Gioia, counselor for the Disabled Students Programs and Services at LPC were also included on the force, among others. The total number in the end was 16, drawing faculty from all different departments.
“It was an unusual task force in that when I agreed to facilitate the task force, I told the president that at first we only wanted subject matter experts,” Tarte said. “We’re trying to come at it from a three-part type of process: intervention/prevention, physical planned security, and then armed law enforcement.”
The first part has already been implemented and was made possible by a California Mental Health Services Authority (CalMHSA) grant to all California community colleges. At LPC, it helped to set up an online guide and avatar training for students and faculty in dealing with an emotionally distraught or mentally disturbed student, and it continues to help fund outreach and education to other community colleges around the state.
It also helps rid society of the stigma associated with mental health.
“If you look at the other shootings at the other community colleges, if you look at the profiles of the students, most of them were disturbed or they needed help and they didn’t receive it,” Dayna Barbero, LPC Nurse Practitioner, said. “I think that if we go out there to eliminate the stigma of mental health, it’ll increase access and increase awareness of what you can do to prevent that person from getting to that point.”
Because the problem is now being addressed, numbers of students receiving mental health services have nearly quadrupled since 2007, the year Barbero arrived at LPC.
“I think the most important part is the mental health intervention process. If we can get everybody trained and comfortable with dealing with an emotionally distraught or mentally disturbed student, I have no problem doing it,” Tarte said. “Dayna’s done a remarkable job.”
The second part of the three-pronged approach towards prevention is physical planned security. This entails securing the school, such as putting locks on doors and windows that make it possible to secure them from the inside. Because of fire code, however, all doors must have a panic bar to get out. There are also well over 500 doors and windows at LPC, which makes it very expensive.
At this point, interim president Dr. Lease has requested maintenance to do a survey so that LPC will have a general idea what needs to be done and how to go forward with physical security measures.
The last part of the prevention process is the most controversial: armed law enforcement. Last semester, the task force recommended to Dr. Walthers, president at the time, to bring a contracted armed police officer onto campus to act in the capacity of a school resource officer.
“Everybody agrees in theory that we need to do this,” Tarte said. “The law enforcement is probably the most controversial because there are a lot of people who believe that if we have armed cops on campus then we’ll have more problems, but the idea is that it’s always better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.”
The idea of a police officer on campus is modeled after police officers at high schools. They would only act if a critical situation arose, such as an active shooter. Otherwise, Campus Safety would still do the bulk of the work.
A grant was discovered to fund this process, but only police departments can receive it. Because the grant came around at a time when Livermore Police Department was transitioning police chiefs, the grant could not be written. If it comes up again in the spring, however, Tarte will be in discussions with the new police chief about writing it.
Sandy Hook was an event that opened many eyes to the horrors that can happen if measures aren’t taken to secure the schools of America. It is known by those personally involved with the victims as 12/14, the day that their lives changed forever.
It is in the hopes of those at LPC and others around the country that they will not be remembered by the tragedy that struck its students and teachers, but that they will be remembered for the work that was done to help prevent situations like 12/14 from ever happening again.
For more information on how to help or be helped, go to the Student Health Center website at www.laspositascollege.edu/healthcenter/index.php.