Minnesotans prepare for possible school shootings
ST. PAUL – Minnesota officials say they have tried to prepare for school shootings like one Friday in Connecticut, but there always is more they can do.
“We need to collaboratively do a better job of securing those kids,” said state Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, a law enforcement officer for 34 years, 16 as Douglas County sheriff.
Training how to react to a shooting is one thing, but “it is very difficult” to prevent shootings, said Superintendent Wade Setter of the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
Minnesota law requires each school to have plans to deal with “potential violent crisis situations” from natural disasters to shootings.
Minnesota Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius and Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher encouraged schools to take a new look at their safety plans.
“It is important that everyone feels comfortable and safe and ready to handle any potential crisis,” Cassellius wrote to school superintendents and principals.
Bemidji Superintendent Jim Hess is assuring parents that their children are safe in the wake of the Connecticut elementary school shooting.
“We really go the extra mile when it comes to student safety when it comes to Bemidji area schools,” Hess said Friday afternoon. “Our children are safe.”
Hess said the Bemidji School District did not have any threats made Friday, but he did enact additional measures of safety.
“These kinds of tragedies are beyond reason and they just tear at the fire of our country,” he said. “We just wanted people to be extra vigilant (Friday).”
Hess, a member of the Bemidji Rotary Club, was at Paul Bunyan Mall earlier in the day to check on Salvation Army bell-ringing activities. He said was stopped by at least a half a dozen people expressing their concerns, regrets and remorse for the victims and their families.
“This is a national tragedy,” he said. “Be thankful that we have children and the joy that they can bring.”
After several previous school shootings around the country, including two in Minnesota, the state established a school safety center. It closed when federal funds supporting it ended, but the state continues to update school safety documents.
Setter, who directed the safety center for two years, said the state offers no formal training for school staff members.
“The most important thing you can do to train and protect the school is to have a comprehensive school safety plan,” Setter said.
Ingebrigtsen said that laws restricting exchange of data among government agencies, in the name of privacy protection, make it difficult to prevent shootings and other issues.
He said that the laws set up roadblocks, adding “that we need to open up communications ... without having to worry about individual rights.”
In many tragic situations, the senator said, there are red flags in advance. However, he added, laws often prevent an agency, such as those dealing with social services programs, from alerting police.
Opening up communications could save lives, Ingebrigtsen said. “It seems like we are doing a pretty poor job of that.”
That lack of communications came into play when Ingebrigtsen’s law enforcement partner was killed. He said that only after his partner was shot to death, law enforcement officers learned the shooter had told them that he planned to “kill a cop.”
“You cannot avoid them all, but there are some mechanisms we can put in place as legislators,” he said. “We have to be able to convey information back and forth between agencies.”
Another way to make schools safer, the senator said, could be placing uniformed officers in schools.
“We’re going to have to have some people who are armed in our schools,” Ingebrigtsen said. “As sad as that can be, and I think (former Gov.) Jesse Ventura brought it up, maybe some of these teachers are going to have to have guns.”
Ingebrigtsen said he fears the Connecticut shooting will bring more calls for gun restrictions.
“The gun is going to get the bad rap here,” Ingebrigtsen said. “Of course, it is not the gun, it is the crazy person behind the trigger.”
Shootings in Minnesota’s Red Lake and Cold Spring schools “certainly opened the eyes,” Ingebrigtsen said, “but like everything else, we get lax.”
On March, 21, 2005 a high school student killed his grandfather and another adult before he went to Red Lake High School and killed four students, a teacher, an unarmed security officer and then himself.
Less than two years earlier, two students died when a fellow student shot them at Rocori High School in Cold Spring.
Following the lead of President Barack Obama, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton ordered American and state flags to be lowered to half staff in respect for the Connecticut victims until sunset Tuesday.
The shootings prompted the Protect Minnesota group to schedule a Friday night Minneapolis rally. The organization promotes reducing gun violence and supports restricting illegal access to guns.
Bethany Wesley, a reporter for the Pioneer newspaper, contributed to this article.