When the “active shooter” policy of the Hempstead County Sheriff's Department and the Hope Police Department was developed, Columbine and Jonesboro had already become a common part of the law enforcement lexicon. But, what the latter school shooting story illustrated from the events at the small, rural campus of the Westside Public Schools near Bono was the vulnerability of any school campus.
Last in a series. When the “active shooter” policy of the Hempstead County Sheriff's Department and the Hope Police Department was developed, Columbine and Jonesboro had already become a common part of the law enforcement lexicon. But, what the latter school shooting story illustrated from the events at the small, rural campus of the Westside Public Schools near Bono was the vulnerability of any school campus. “We developed the 'active shooter' policy during the administration of Sheriff Jerry Crane,” Hempstead County Sheriff James Singleton said in an extensive interview recently. “I don't want to say too much, but we do have blueprints of all the rural schools on file.” What that illustrates, according to Singleton, is how the HCSO and Hope Police Department have become better organized to deal with such situations. Singleton's perspective was sought prior to the Feb. 5 incident at Hope High School and the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope. “In the City of Hope, we would be an assisting agency,” he said. “We would assist in any way we could. And, basically, our active shooter policy is the same as theirs.” But, while Singleton was not directly involved in that incident, a number of HCSO officers participated, based upon agreements developed under that unified “active shooter” policy. “It is the policy of the Hope Police Department and the Hempstead County Sheriff's office to protect human life by any legal means,” the policy states. “Officers responding to an active shooter incident will accomplish this goal by immediately using any legal means at their disposal to make contact with the active shooter and stop the suspect(s). This may include arrest, containment, surrender, and the use of deadly force if necessary.” That common element of the use of “any legal means” provides a unified philosophy for the protection of both schools in Hope and in rural communities in Hempstead County. “It was sometime after Westside, back before 2000, that we conducted a drill concerning an active shooter in the Spring Hill Schools,” Singleton said. “The older way of thinking was that you get there and try to help and treat the wounded; but, now, the way officers are trained, even if there is just one officer there, you go straight for the threat, whether one or more officers. You don't wait for back up.” That immediate, direct confrontation comes from the understanding stated in the policy that an active shooter's “overriding objective appears to be that of mass murder, rather than other criminal conduct, such as robbery, hostage taking, etc.” “To keep the perpetrator from doing more damage, officers are trained now to get there, gather information and go toward the threat and try to eliminate the threat; then, evacuate and treat the wounded,” Singleton said. The concept of confrontation of the active shooter is being emphasized more widely today, he said. “The U. S. Attorney for the Western District is putting on a class in Fort Smith on Feb. 20 that a couple of our investigators are going to attend,” Singleton said. According to information from the office of U. S. Attorney Conner Eldridge, the seminar will focus upon preventing and responding to emergencies specifically on school campuses. The training is being conducted in conjunction with the Sebastian County Sheriff's Department, and is open to law enforcement officers, school administrators and school security personnel statewide. “Since the Newtown, Conn., incident, I've scheduled meetings and have met with two of the three rural school districts in our county,” Singleton said. The purpose of each session in Spring Hill, Blevins and Mineral Springs is to improve communications and develop strategies for addressing incidences of violence on those rural campuses, he said. “We want to let them know what we expect when we arrive on the scene, and what they can expect,” Singleton said. “And, without getting into detail, one thing we are going to develop policies and procedures that when we arrive there, they are going to know exactly what we are going to do and we are going to know exactly what they are going to do.” Personally knowing administrators and faculty members on rural school campuses, particularly, will make the job easier, Singleton said. “We know by sight, rather than just having to put out a list,” he said. “Some of the deputies with children at rural schools are very familiar with teachers and administrators. Working with the administrators as we have, so far, I would say, including Hope, it has been very well received.” Singleton said rural superintendents are becoming more receptive to the idea of placing an officer on campus in each community. “That is certainly an idea that we have looked at; but, I lost three employees in the jail this year, so I don't really have the manpower to do that,” he said. “But, utilizing my reserve officers, and without getting into detail, I would more than welcome that if there is a way to put an officer there, I'd love to have one there.” Singleton admits that distance is a factor for his department which is not, necessarily, the case for the HPD. “You're talking about a 30 minute response time when you hurry to get to Saratoga or Blevins,” he said. “We have 742 square miles in the county; it's a long way to the other end of the county. I would, personally, like to see a uniformed deputy on every campus; not only to be a deterrent, but to develop relationships with the students.” Singleton said that is addressed partially through the DARE program which funds a drug awareness/resistance program officer for 10 weeks a year. Permanently stationing an officer on each campus is largely prevented by funding, he said. “There is no federal funding for it, right now,” he said. “And, with our budget right now, I don't know. I'm not going to say there is no way, but if it came down to the life of one kid, I'd spend every dime we have to protect that one kid. But, I think, with the plans we are going to have in place, and the reserve officers we can call on to cut that response time, we can handle it.” Using direct radio communications in each school is another avenue which Singleton would like to explore, he said. That would require additional funding and cooperative agreements, he said. “I look at grants every day to see what is available; but, I have yet to come upon anything that would allow us to put a full time deputy on each campus,” Singleton said. Rural school districts are also better prepared themselves today, he said. “They have some pretty good lockdown policies, and pretty good admissions policies for the school grounds,” Singleton said. “From what I've determined so far, they have some pretty good plans already in place. I would like to have some drills as it gets closer to summer.”