Should any one of Missoula’s schools come under attack, it will take at least three minutes – and probably longer – for police to respond to the 9-1-1 call and arrive on scene.
For Missoula County sheriff’s deputies, it will take at least 10 minutes.
Such is the frustrating reality for schools in need of immediate law enforcement protection.
There’s a saying that sums up that awful gap, said Lt. Rob Taylor of the Missoula County Sheriff’s Office.
“When seconds count, the cops are only minutes away,” he said. “We know that’s true, we live with that knowledge every day.”
Taylor took the spotlight Tuesday night as he guided the Missoula County Public Schools public safety committee through a presentation called “Taking an Active Role to Counter Violent Attacks.”
In the critical four minutes before law enforcement arrives during a threat, the school community can play a significant role in deciding the outcome of the event, Taylor said.
Law enforcement agencies have learned an important lesson from the massacres at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech: If people do something proactive in the time before police arrive, there is a greater likelihood that more people will survive an attack.
“Doing something,” may sound like common sense, Taylor said, but swinging a chair at someone, barricading doors with desks or using a flagpole as a weapon might not be the first reaction for people who have dedicated their lives to educating children.
To that end, Missoula’s two law enforcement agencies want to partner with MCPS in an active resistance training program offered by Safariland, a well-established company that police rely upon for protective gear, instruction and more.
Active resistance, Taylor said, is one of the biggest gaps when it comes to school safety.
Safariland has recognized the need and is now offering a “train the trainer” course, he said.
“Decision-making is at the core of this,” Taylor said of the intensive two-day course, which will cost about $350 per person to attend.
The agencies are hopeful that 20 to 30 MCPS employees would participate, with the idea that those individuals would then take the training back to their schools and share it with others.
The Safariland course currently is being scheduled for the second week of June, and even if MCPS doesn’t participate the police department and sheriff’s office will move forward with the training, said Police Chief Mark Muir.
As the 18 committee members asked questions and discussed that it’s easier to be courageous when a person has confidence and that resistance training of any kind would be a good thing for district employees, a Hellgate High School teacher made a blunt assessment.
“We are still doing lockdown – that’s all we do,” said John Marks.
Jim Conkle, a Missoula parent, however voiced concerns about hiring Safariland when local law enforcement could do the training for far less cost.
“Where is the money coming from?” he asked. “I agree with the idea but if it’s coming out of my teachers’ supply budget, I’d think twice about it.”
As the two-hour meeting came to a close, committee members agreed to think more on the topic. The committee also agreed to address first aid training, locking systems, sustainability of training programs and increasing the number of school resource officers at its May meeting.
In June, the public safety committee, along with the mental health committee and the facilities safety and security committee, will make recommendations to the MCPS board.
The only person to speak during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting was Dan Geary, an MCPS custodian, who urged the committee to do more than talk.
“Make this process actualized, make a product,” he said. “Do something practical.”