In the wake of the Uvalde school shooting, yet another in a seemingly endless string of mass shootings, parents have raised questions about how local police respond to these situations. We reached out to West St. Paul Police Chief Brian Sturgeon to learn more.
The West St. Paul Police Department is holding a community roundtable discussion on June 23 at Harmon Park.
Interview With Police Chief Brian Sturgeon
Sturgeon said he’s been overwhelmed with questions about this topic. He also expressed concern about the slow police response reported in Uvalde.
Does the West St. Paul police have protocols in place for school shootings and are they practiced routinely? What are the protocols?
An active shooter response, whether it is in a school, business, church, or other location must be immediately addressed. Officers are trained not only in West St. Paul but throughout the state of Minnesota to deal with the threat. That means when responding to a school shooting you go to the shooter without delay or hesitation. You do not wait for additional resources or equipment. If you are the first person on scene and the next officer will be arriving 30 seconds later, you do not hesitate. You enter the school and address the shooter to stop the threat.
In Dakota County, all law enforcement agencies work together to provide initial training for new officers as well as refresher training to officers. Just this past month we sent our newer officers that have not been through this training to Burnsville for the day to cover this topic and actually perform responses to active shooters. We train to address active shooters as a single officer response and in teams when resources are present. We also train with the fire department and EMS with response to active shooters.
We have what is called “go bags” in all our squads. It is basically a small backpack used specifically for active shooter scenarios. There are tools in the bag that are used to pry open locked doors, break windows in order to gain entry, door marking instruments, and other tools. If a door is locked, we will get in. We are not waiting for a key.
What do you suggest schools do to make sure people are as safe as possible?
School security can be a very in-depth topic. Books are written on the subject. The first in my opinion is the ability for a school to be secure to begin with. We have some schools that are wide open, meaning you can come in the front door and have access to the whole building. We must make sure that the schools in our district have no or limited access from the public when entering the school. For instance, there are schools locally that are completely locked and the only way for entry into the building is by having the office staff buzz you into the building once you have been identified and are not a threat.
Alarm systems should be in place to alert students and staff of an intruder and certain protocols must be in place by the school to keep students and staff safe. Those protocols must be known by students and staff and practiced. The local law enforcement agency needs to be aware of those practices as well and work together with the school so each entity knows and understands the response.
Students and staff must be comfortable in coming forward with concerns of students, staff, parents, etc who may carry out a shooting. There are usually warning signs or red flags that come up prior to a school shooting that are not investigated or addressed. The school, law enforcement, and/or social workers must do something to address any reports of concern. Family and friends are also very important. So many kids have no chance in life, fall through the cracks, and just flow through student life without the needed assistance. This needs to change.
How do the West St. Paul police respond to threats at local schools, like the one at Heritage that happened right after Uvalde?
We work closely with the district and every situation is different. When we received the complaint on the alleged threat at 8 or 9 that evening, we did contact school officials that night. We made sure the student was not allowed to return to the school, spoke with all parties involved—including the student who allegedly made the threat and his parent. We were confident the threat could not have been carried out based on the information we had at the time and relayed that information to the school as well. We continued to be in contact with the school to address this issue along with the issues of perceived safety and addressing lot of misinformation spreading across social media that caused undue fear for students and parents.
Mass shootings/school shootings seem to be an issue unique to America (compared to the rest of the developed world). Do you have any suggestions on how to combat this?
This is not only a touchy political issue but something that can be talked about at great length. In a nutshell, having difficult conversations are good, but if something needs to change, why have a conversation if nothing will change? We need to have conversations but we also need changes.
I believe gun purchasing background checks need to be expanded. Currently in Minnesota, the chief of police approves permits to purchase handgun permits and the sheriff is responsible for issuing permits to carry a firearm which also acts as a permit to purchase. The parameters for rejecting a permit are very narrow. I believe there should be some discretion when issuing or denying gun permits to individuals, especially those with mental health issues.
A perfect example is a person with known mental health issues—who has been diagnosed with specific mental illnesses—who applies for a gun permit and they can get one. I cannot deny them a permit. They must have been committed first. Even though the wife is begging me to not issue a permit, by law he cannot be denied.
Why does someone need to take a lengthy course, pass a written test, and show proficiency before being allowed to operate a snowmobile or four-wheeler when no requirement is in place for a firearm? We can do better.
The right must make concessions and the left must make concessions. We must come together to make something happen. That is the big challenge today. We cannot even get the legislature at the state level to come together on something as simple as addressing catalytic converter thefts. I just shake my head.
What are your thoughts on some of the specific proposals for gun reform and school security?
- Red flag laws? Yes, depending on the wording.
- Background checks? We have it now, but it can be expanded to incorporate other information, for example from social services.
- School resource officers? Yes.
- Arming teachers? There needs to be more discussion on this. It shouldn’t be mandated by the state or federal government, it should be up to the local community. If we do it, there needs to be extensive training and background checks.
- Restricting ammunition purchases? I am not sure if this will address any of the true issues.
- Raising the purchase age for guns? I am for raising the age to 21. In Minnesota you need to be 21 in order to purchase a weapon similar to an AR15 platform weapon now. Should be a national standard.
- Banning assault weapons? That’s a very hot topic that I do not want to touch. People will be mad no matter what I say.
Note: Minnesota has a pre-emption law that prohibits cities from passing their own gun laws, so most of these types of changes would have to come at the state or federal level.
Thanks to Chief Brian Sturgeon for answering our questions and keeping the community informed.
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