Manatee school district reviews security procedures following Conn. shooting

ejohnson@bradenton.comDecember 14, 2012 

MANATEE -- In wake of a fatal elementary school shooting in Connecticut on Friday morning, Manatee County School officials met Friday afternoon to assess the possibility of local threats and review plans in place if a similar incident were to happen.

"We did a couple of things just to remind principals and assistant principals to review security and safety plans and be vigilant," said interim Superintendent David Gayler. "We have no reason to believe there is anything pointed at Manatee County. Other school districts across the United States are doing the same thing we're doing -- just figuring out the 'whys' to determine if there is reason to believe they should do something."

An official confirmed 27 are dead, including 20 children and the gunman, at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., according to the Associated Press. Another body was found at a second scene.

Police responded to the scene about 9:40 a.m. Friday. Schools throughout the district and neighboring towns were locked down.

The incident is the nation's second-deadliest school shooting after the Virginia Tech rampage that left 33 dead in 2007, AP reports.

"What a horrible day. I'm in shock," said Margi Nanney, school district spokeswoman. "We have a lot of wonderful safety nets in place, but you can never be cautious enough. We do prepare for things like this. We work very closely with county officials and law enforcement."

The Manatee County Sheriff's office met with school administrators to discuss short-term precautions. Agencies are prepared to take action if any intelligence indicates a threat, Gayler said. Deputies will patrol campuses and school events more closely in the coming days, he added.

Gayler said the district's current security plan requires all visitors to check in at the school's front desk and receive a badge. Doors and perimeter fences should be locked and checked regularly, security cameras should be monitored and any suspicious activity on or near campus should be reported, Gayler said.

Bradenton police officers, who participate in a school familiarization program, responded to their respective schools Friday, according to Chief Michael Radzilowski.

"Every officer is responsible to go to their neighborhood school and walk through to be familiar with the layout," Radzilowski said. "We must know where locations are to engage as soon as possible to stop the carnage. We try to plan and be proactive with any emergency at any school in the district."

Officers who had never participated in the program or had not visited their school recently were directed to do so immediately, Radzilowski said.

Palmetto officers patrol schools every day, said Deputy Chief Scott Tyler, Palmetto police spokesman.

"We have a daily presence around our campuses, especially before and after school," he said. "Even before the tragedy in Connecticut, we take the safety of our schools and students very seriously."

Following the infamous Columbine shooting in 1999, Manatee County readdressed all school shooting protocols, said Dave Bristow, sheriff's office spokesman.

"We have a crisis plan with the schools," he said. "We did a lot of assessments of the schools. A lot of work was done all over the country. That was really the first and only high-profile shooting at a school. Everybody has a plan now."

Bristow and Radzilowski said if something of this magnitude were to happen locally, it would become a priority for Manatee County law enforcement and surrounding agencies.

"All of Manatee County's law enforcement is seamless," Radzilowski said. "We share resources in emergency situations, and we would certainly share manpower.

Bristow said SWAT teams would be the first to respond to an active shooting incident.

"You would have a school resource officer, depending on the school, but that's only one person," Bristow added. "You would see dozens and dozens of deputies. Every available person would be called in."

Due to school budget cuts, school resource officers were recently removed from all elementary schools in Manatee County.

The sheriff's office has a lieutenant and two sergeants who oversee the school resource officer unit. Thirteen deputies are placed in middle and high schools. Braden River, Nolan and Haile middle schools share a deputy.

The Bradenton Police Department has two officers at Manatee High School and one at Sugg Middle School. Palmetto has a unit supervisor with an officer at Palmetto High School and Lincoln Middle School.

Gayler, who is new to the district, said he realizes the number of school resource officers have been reduced in the past year and will review that when proposing next year's budget.

"School resource officers, in addition to other security items like upgraded equipment, are some things I would put forth with significant review," Gayler said. "I can't tell right now what the budget will look like and what priorities will be. But safety and security are a priority, regardless of this incident, as we begin that talk and process."

Bristow said the only active shooting he remembers at a Manatee County school during operating hours was at Lincoln Middle in October 1997.

A 13-year-old pulled a revolver from his backpack and fired up to three times, hitting a fellow student in the back at close range.

The victim's injuries were not life-threatening, and no other people were injured.

"We've had threats where we've fortunately caught it before anything happened," Bristow said. "Over the years we've had numerous incidents of kids with a knife or a weapon on campus or in a backpack, but not threatening to do anything with it."

Gayler said it is possible that the school's current policies will be further reviewed in the spring to determine if changes or improvements should be made.

"That would be a long-term situation," he said. "We want to get law enforcement agencies to get solid advice on where we might have weak points. (Friday) was to determine any worries in Manatee County."

Elizabeth Johnson, Herald crime reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041. Follow her on Twitter@EJohnsonBHcrime.

Bradenton Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service