Efforts taken over the past three years to improve the Shawnee Mission School District’s security measures may have helped law enforcement catch three potential school shooters before they were able to act, Shawnee Mission Director of Safety and Security John Douglass told the board of education on Monday.
In a presentation given in the context of the February 14 school shooting in Florida that killed three teachers and 14 students, Douglass provided an overview of the district’s approach to prevention and security.
There are three aspects to Shawnee Mission’s security program:
- 1.) Surveillance and information gathering. Douglass said the district had good systems in place for students and staff to bring suspicious activity to the department’s attention. Through those channels, the district has been alerted to a handful of individuals who may have been in the planning stages of a shooting. “We have interdicted, in my opinion, in at least three very near misses in the last three and a half years,” Douglass said. “[The individuals were] very close, in preparation and gathering the resources that could have actually become active shooter events.”
- 2.) Building security. Douglass noted that with the bond issue approved by district voters in 2015, Shawnee Mission had installed building security systems that are “state of the art.” Each school building has remote door locking capabilities, and an extensive video monitoring system.
- 3.) Training for “the unthinkable.” Douglass said that ideally the district would be able to run training scenarios for students and teachers to educate them on the best way to respond to an emergency. But “time is very difficult to get” in the school calendar and students move from building to building as they get older, presenting the need to acclimate them to different surroundings in emergencies.
Douglass said he and his staff had started analyzing the specifics of the Parkland shooting from the moment it broke, and that they had identified steps the shooter took the enhance the lethality of this attack that previous shooters had not employed.
“We are constantly trying to anticipate what’s happening in those kinds of events,” Douglass said. “They are like a flu virus. They mutate every single time.”
He cautioned that there would be no single “magic pill” policy step lawmakers could enact to prevent future shootings, but that schools and law enforcement agencies need to collaborate to “put as many obstacles in the path of that individual bent on hurting our kids as we possibly can.”
Douglass, who served nearly two decades as Overland Park Police Chief before become the first-ever director of safety and security in 2014, said that with his own grandchildren attending Shawnee Mission Schools, he wants to assure patrons that the district is doing everything it can to create a secure, welcoming environment.
“I believe every morning when [my grandchildren’s] parents send them off to school they are safe,” he said. “And I want the parents who live here to feel the same way.”
But, he said, security requires constant vigilance. Douglass was in his final week as chief of police in Overland Park when a neo-Nazi killed three people at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City and Village Shalom in April 2014.
“You will never hear me say ‘never again,’” Douglass said. “We have to always be vigilant. We have to always work at it.”
You can see Douglass’s full presentation to the board below: