School shootings topic of Spanish Fort public meeting

Government Editor
Posted 7/13/22

SPANISH FORT — Participants in a recent public meeting said communication and preparation are keys to keeping students safe and working to prevent tragedies such as the recent shooting in …

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School shootings topic of Spanish Fort public meeting


SPANISH FORT — Participants in a recent public meeting said communication and preparation are keys to keeping students safe and working to prevent tragedies such as the recent shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

Police and city officials met with parents and other residents Tuesday, June 28, in Spanish Fort to discuss school safety. Police Chief John Barber said the time to talk about it is before something happens.

"We know and see what's going on in Uvalde and all the conversations and the meetings, all these things that are happening," Barber said. "They usually happen right after the incident. This is such an important part of our community. Why can't we have that conversation now, so that we as a law enforcement agency can hear your concerns and we can try to do better in our training, in our policies and our procedures going forward?"

Barber said communication between police, educators and the public is important. He said parents and students often hear things that officials need to hear.

"We need you to be part of our security team," Barber told the audience. "If we have a threat at a school — and

unfortunately throughout the school year, in Spanish Fort, in any jurisdiction, law enforcement typically deals with somebody making some kind of threat to the school — and we take that extremely seriously. If we hear of a potential threat at a school, that becomes top priority."

In the shooting at Ross Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, an 18-year-old man killed 19 children and two teachers on May 24. Barber said one criticism of police tactics was that officers waited too long to respond to the incident.

He said Spanish Fort police have orders to respond immediately to any threat.

"Our sole purpose is to stop the killing, whatever it takes," Barber said. "I'll tell you this right now, and we've re-enforced this with our officers. You do not need my permission. You do not need your sergeant's permission. If you are the first officer on the scene, you are to go. You are to do whatever you can to stop it. Seconds mean lives. We are really re-enforcing that with our officers."

Barber said school shootings were almost unheard of when he began his career in law enforcement 26 years ago. Fires were considered the biggest school danger at that time.

He said the last time a student died in a school fire was in 1958, but since the attack at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, school shootings have become more of a threat.

"The biggest threat that we have to our children's safety right now are these mass shootings that occur, this phenomenon that we have been dealing with for the last 20 plus years," Barber said.

Barber said school resource officers are also a key to protecting children. For the last five years, every school in Baldwin County has had a police officer assigned on that campus.

"They are sworn police officers," Barber said. "They are not security guards. Before they were SROs, they all had different assignments."

He said all of the SROs receive additional training to prepare them for the assignment. Some officers have also been certified in Special Weapons and Tactics, or SWAT, training.

"These are not just regular patrol officers that are in schools. These are some who have received additional training in SWAT tactics. Why is that important? If you've got to address an active shooter, that's very important," Barber said. "They receive specialized training every single year, at least one week of training where they're able to go and learn best practices in how to work in a school environment."

Derrick Correa, SRO at Spanish Fort Middle School, said officers work with students on a daily basis.

"This is to show you what we are doing and how much this means to us," Correa said. "We are here to reassure you guys about the safety of your kids."

Correa said he works with children during a difficult time in their lives, making the transition from elementary to high school grades. He said he works to be someone that students can talk to while also providing security at the school.

While resource officers in some school systems are not armed, Baldwin police serving as school resource officers carry their weapons.

During the meeting, one audience member asked if training and arming some teachers could also be a deterrent to shooters.

Barber said arming school employees would put guns in a classroom setting where students might find the weapons. He said police officers have more than 800 hours of training including extensive instruction in the use of firearms before they are allowed to carry weapons. A teacher would not have that level of training.

"I don't think we need to complicate the situation by putting more guns in the schools," Barber said.

Mayor Mike McMillan said keeping children safe is a major goal for the city and residents.

"The city of Spanish Fort and our residents are all about our schools," McMillan said. "It's what we thrive on. We love our kids. That's our most important element of what we are. We certainly want to thank a lot of people, Chief Barber, our SROs, who look out for us every day."