Lessons Learned From School Lockdown

Robinson arrested and mental health evaluation part of bond

According to some Crested Butte teachers, one of the first questions students asked during a Thursday, December 21 lockdown was “Is this another drill?” It wasn’t. But because there had been several previous lockout and lockdown drills, officials say the Thursday lockdown at the Crested Butte Community School went smoothly. Not that lessons weren’t learned, but overall the situation worked as planned.

The Thursday morning lockdown resulted in the arrest of a 44-year-old Gunnison man who was employed as a counselor in the school district. Patrick Robinson was taken into custody late Thursday morning and charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor. According to an email from district attorney for the Seventh Judicial District Dan Hotsenpiller, Robinson “has been charged with one count of Interference With School–Credible Threat, a Class 1 misdemeanor, for actions alleged to have occurred on December 21.”

The email continued, “Mr. Robinson was arrested and his bond was set at $1,500 cash or surety, and includes conditions requested by the District Attorney’s Office: no use or possession of alcohol or illegal drugs; no possession of weapons; a mental health evaluation; and exclusion from all school property in Gunnison and Hinsdale Counties, including the campus of Western State Colorado University.”

As of Wednesday, December 27, Robinson had bonded out of the Gunnison Detention Center.

Robinson, who was employed by the school district but on administrative leave, had apparently made a threatening remark while in the Gunnison High School on the morning of the 21st. He then left the building saying he was heading up to Crested Butte. The remark was enough to set the district’s emergency operation plan into action. School superintendent Doug Tredway said the district put all the schools into “lockout status” used to secure the perimeter as a preventive measure when a threat or danger is outside the school building. While it was thought that Robinson was on his way to Crested Butte, he instead went to his residence in Gunnison.

Lockout versus lockdown

Tredway said the Crested Butte Community School started on lockout “and when the Crested Butte marshal arrived he advised the administration that they go to lockdown and they did. It was a collaborative decision,” Tredway explained.

Lockdown status is a step above a lockout. In a lockdown the process includes drawing the shades, students are not allowed to move out of the classroom and they are required to be out of sight from any window. That is implemented when there is a possible threat inside the school or with external threats that may enter the building. That status was kept in place for several hours in Crested Butte.

Tredway said the process worked as planned, thanks in part to drills held in the past. “There were not any problems with the lockdowns and lockouts,” he said. “I was pleased that the staff and students responded quickly and efficiently. The collaboration between law enforcement and the district was fantastic. The fact that we have an Emergency Operations Plan and that we practice helped the students and staff have a fairly normal day. As we always do after an event like this, we will debrief and may make adjustments in our protocol if necessary.”

Parents of CBCS students received an update from school administration the night of the incident. It read in part:

“We want to acknowledge the excellent response of your children and their teachers today. The students were positive and cooperative. Teachers handled the situation with the utmost professionalism. We also appreciate the response from all of you, our community, and local law enforcement.

“Moving forward, we’d like to share some important information and reminders.

Important Information

When talking with your child about today’s events, please be aware that particularly among younger children, threat perceptions are influenced by adult behaviors and reactions to the crisis event. Events that initially are not viewed as threatening or frightening may become so after the child observes the panic reactions of parents or teachers. Sensationalized media reports can also influence how frightening a child views an event to be. Our advice is less is more. At no time were students in danger or exposed to anything traumatic. We can help minimize the impact of today’s events by limiting dramatic discussions, responding to questions with facts, and reiterating that our school is a safe place.

Reminders:

  1. Please follow our school protocols when entering the school during school hours (enter through the main entrance only and sign in at the office).
  2. Please refrain from calling or coming to the school during any emergencies or drills. During the event today, we received nearly 100 incoming calls, which prevented the office from making outgoing calls. We cannot answer incoming calls during emergencies and drills and cannot reiterate enough the need to keep our phone lines open.
  3. Please do not text or call your children during emergencies and drills. Some parents texted students with incorrect, sensationalized information that alarmed students. Additionally, to ensure safety, student cell phones must be silent during emergencies.

Training works

On the law enforcement side, the drills also seemed to pay dividends when it came time to an actual situation.

“The training we all did previously paid off, especially in respect to working with the school,” explained Crested Butte chief marshal Mike Reily. “We had three marshals on-duty and they responded directly. I was off-duty but on my way to town and received a call from the principal. As we learned that the suspect might be coming to Crested Butte, I started to call additional officers in for support. The coordination was relatively seamless as both ends of the county work on the same dispatch channel. Thankfully, cell coverage stayed up as we used that as much or more than the radio.”

“Cross-training with other agencies always pays off,” agreed Gunnison county sheriff Rick Besecker. “I observed magnificent cooperation between local, county and state agencies that was instrumental in establishing a safe resolve to this circumstance. Not only does mutually shared training play a significant part in working well together but personalizing friendships and professional association plays a big part in growing comfort and confidence when urgent situations occur.”

Besecker said the actual arrest of Robinson went smoothly, without any injuries.

Reily agreed. “I appreciated the sheriff’s office initial plan to come assist us,” he said. “Then, when their deputy located the suspect north of Gunnison my officers diverted to assist their operation. Crested Butte sent tactical medics and officers to assist with negotiations [and] observation of the suspect and to form a contact team. All in all, a well coordinated response but we would benefit from all agencies training more together.”

Robinson was arrested at a house just north of Gunnison and booked into the Gunnison Detention Center on the Class 1 misdemeanor. His bond was set at $1,500.

Lessons

What lessons were learned from the situation? Hotsenpiller said given the reality of potential school threats in this day and age, Colorado’s criminal law dealing with such situations “is behind the times. The Colorado District Attorneys Council has developed a bill that would modernize our law and make it clear that it is a crime to make a credible threat of violence against our schools and other public and private institutions. The proposed law would classify these crimes as misdemeanors.”

Hotsenpiller continued, “However, if certain aggravating circumstances were involved, such as extensive personal injury or damage, then the person could be charged with felony crimes. In addition, the statute would allow the recovery of some of the substantial public costs involved in the response to these incidents. We anticipate this bill will be seriously considered in the 2018 session.

“The intent of this legislation is to give district attorney’s the tools necessary to respond to cases involving threats of violence,” Hotsenpiller continued. “Fortunately, most such threats do not result in actual violence or harm. Our law enforcement agencies, our school personnel and other institutions, have learned how to quickly and effectively respond to these situations. This was observed in Gunnison last week. Nonetheless, threats of violence are wrong and should not be dismissed or tolerated. They must be taken seriously and offenders must be identified and held accountable for their actions and the consequences.”

From the local law enforcement perspective, some changes already made helped.

“We recently changed our primary radio system to the state digital system, which allowed us to communicate inside of the school and down valley,” said Reily. “This wouldn’t have been possible at all with the other system.”

Besecker said, “There are always communication difficulties in every event, but by such frequent association with lateral agencies, those are usually resolved early on.”

Tredway said the school would also be looking at how things could be improved. “We will discuss a few ideas that will help the communications between schools and the different law enforcement agencies,” he said. “Parents and the community have been great and we did get some feedback that we will review as we debrief.

“We understand that these situations are frightening,” Tredway wrote parents in an email. “Please know we will do our best to keep you informed in a timely manner but want to ensure that information is verified by law enforcement before communicating such. We appreciate the response of law enforcement, parents, and the community. Working as a team helps to ensure the physical and emotional safety of all students. We will be reviewing this event in order to refine our safety practices.”

A court date for Robinson has been set for January 11.

Written by Mark Reaman
Crested Butte News | December 27, 2017
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2017-12-28T14:45:50+00:00