Police, District Gain Insight On Handling School Situations

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Several incidents, which required police response to school campuses this year, have taught school and law enforcement officials valuable lessons.

Citing one incident in particular, Payson Police Chief Don Engler said the most valuable lesson police learned regarded intercommunication with school and district officials during potentially dangerous on and off-campus situations.

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Payson Police Sgt. Don Kasl

He said by maintaining a high level of contact, both police and school officials were able to better coordinate activities like searches and arrests in subsequent school related situations requiring law enforcement involvement.

The learning incident Engler referred to was the Feb. 14 off-campus stabbing of a 15-year-old male Payson High School student.

"An off-campus situation earlier this year, about a half block from the school (Rim Country Middle School), taught the department (Payson Police) that we need to keep

close one-on-one contact with everyone involved during incidents that require law enforcement response to educational facilities," said Engler.

On Tuesday, Feb. 14 Payson police said they received a report of a student with an abdominal injury at Rim Country Middle School.

A press release from Payson P.D. said after officers arrived they determined a 15-year-old student had been stabbed and they were able to conclude the stabbing itself had not taken place at the Rim Country Middle School.

After interviewing the victim and witnesses, police were able to make an arrest in the off-campus stabbing.

Engler said police and school officials handled the situation well, but they learned an important lesson.

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Andy Towle/Roundup - atowle@payson.com

Casey O'Brien

"We learned we need to communicate better with education officials in those kind of situations," he said.

Engler said they came to the conclusion that better intercommunication between involved agencies was needed after a de-briefings following incidents.

He said during the de-briefings law enforcement and school officials, as well as other involved parties, offered suggestions and advice on how to improve the way they handle potentially dangerous situations involving students both on and off school campuses.

In situations like the one on Feb. 14, the district imposes a lockdown, either of one school or the entire district, said Payson Unified School District Superintendent Casey O'Brien.

He said the district will call police when they feel a potential threat or safety issue arises.

"We look to the police department for guidance," said O'Brien.

He said the district does not conduct regular campus searches for drugs or weapons.

"We don't feel we have a need for things like metal detectors or K9 searches (for drugs), our campuses are pretty clear of those things," he said.

He said like many school districts throughout the nation, Payson does have drug-related incidents, but he said there are fewer in Payson than in places like the Valley.

There are two resource officers for the Payson school district, Payson police sergeant David Vaughn and Mike McAnerny.

"They handle most of the situations that arise," O'Brien said.

Engler said the resource officers do a good job of keeping Payson's schools safe, but that they can't do it all without help sometimes.

"A lot of people aren't aware that part of their duties include 90 hours of law-related education, and they are our first line of defense," Engler said.

Engler said when police are required to respond to a violent situation or one where there is a potential for injury or loss of life with additional officers, Payson police use a response system called "Active Shooter."

Engler said it is a response system they hope they never have to use, but they train for the possibility. The first thing police do is to minimize danger by isolating the situation.

"In the past we would often use negotiating as a tool, but now there is a greater need for quick response," he said.

An incident that had the potential for loss of life occurred at Payson High School this year.

Engler said cooperation between law enforcement and school officials was key to diffusing it quickly. On Jan. 30 of this year, police responded to a call from the district about a possible firearm on campus.

O'Brien placed the entire district into a precautionary lockdown while police searched the high school campus and surrounding area. Police apprehended the suspect quickly, but at first, couldn't locate the weapon.

When police were unable to find what turned out to be a pellet gun, another student disregarded unspoken peer pressure rules of conduct and told police that they should look for the gun in a car belonging to a friend of the suspect.

After searching the car, police found the pellet gun and confiscated it. Engler said that because of the lessons the police learned in previous situations, they were able to contain the situation in about an hour and a half.

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