We have received a number of bomb or gun threats at various CPS schools in the past couple of weeks, the most recent one last night against the Amigos School and the Putnam Ave and Vassal Lane upper schools. CPS and CPD’s response to last night’s gun threat is attached but, while schools will open today as normal but with some extra protections, given the recent worldwide violence, and especially yesterday’s mass shooting in California, if you are at all like me you are really unsure about just how safe your children will be at school and are unclear on how we, as a School District and as a City, are adjusting, or should adjust, to what seems to be a new world of even more violence and threats.
I wish I had a great and comforting answer that everything will be all right. But I don’t. CPD and CPS staff locked up the buildings last night and have gone through them looking for suspicious things, all schools have locks and various emergency response training programs and procedures, but we’re still not sure just how safe they are and how much safer we can make them without a discomfortingly obvious and inconvenient security presence. A number of people have shared their thoughts that we need to all have a better understanding of what we should expect in situations like this, ranging from more attentive police officers on duty to a better way to communicate with parents and staff during a response event. You can read a bit about CPS’ crisis response plans here but that was completed over two years ago and perhaps it is time to revisit how we react in situations like these. Whether you are a police officer, a teacher, a custodian, a parent, a student or someone else, everyone has a role to play in these situations but many of us aren’t very clear on what it is we’re supposed to do to make things go as best as possible nor what we should expect from CPS, CPD or anyone else involved in these situations.
This sort of internet-based threat are treated seriously but can be very difficult to follow up on. This NYT’s article on “Swatting” is a pretty good, though not perfectly parallel, discussion about some of the challenges law enforcement authorities face when responding to what wind up being malicious false alarms and also when trying to bring some sort of prosecution against the folks that send them out.
I am hoping to have a Public Safety Committee meeting between now and the end of the year to more thoroughly explore how we currently handle all aspects of these sorts of threats to our schools and to try to figure out what, if anything, we should do differently.
Personally, though it’s not directly related to these school threats, I think we need to revisit how we staff and train our police forces to reflect the new challenges they face so we can get the protection we’re looking for without having CPD turn into an overly militarized agency. For starters, I would do away with construction details and focus instead on more training and creating a different pay scale for police officers so that their time could be spent more wisely, but that’s going to be a long and challenging discussion. You can read my thoughts on the need to reform policing here. We ask our police officers to perform a stunning variety of duties, many of which are dangerous if not possibly deadly, and I think it’s far beyond the time to treat law enforcement as the true profession that it is and not expect officers to make extra money working construction details of very dubious value.
Independent of a Public Safety Committee meeting (which may turn out to be impossible to schedule given quorum requirements and competing events as the term ends), I would be happy to meet with people and hear their thoughts on this issue. Just drop me an email if you’d like to do that and we’ll set something up.