Just after 7:30 a.m. last Thursday, a troubled 16-year-old at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita opened fire on some of his fellow students, killing two and wounding three others before turning the gun on himself.
While the tragedy happened some 35 miles northwest of South Pasadena, local police, like departments throughout the region, went on heightened alert – dispatching extra patrols to South Pas campuses.
“It immediately puts fear into parents, into kids,’’ said Sgt. Robert Bartl, one of the South Pas Police Department’s watch commanders.
“So, for us to be around our local schools and show the police presence, it’s really important for the calming effect and the comfort of the children and the teachers and the parents. The watch commander will say (over the radio), ‘Go to the high school, stay in the area of the schools, make yourself visible.’ ’’
Of course, while this most recent tragedy happened to have occurred elsewhere, it was also a chilling reminder that it could have happened here, or anywhere.
According to the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, since 2006, the U.S. has averaged an active-shooter event with four or more deaths every 2.9 months – that’s overall, not exclusively in schools. In addition, there are, on average, 20 mass shootings in the U.S. every year, the Sheriff’s Department reported.
“Things like Saugus High School … it gets your mind thinking, hey, this isn’t far from home here,’’ Bartl told the Review. “So it definitely heightens our awareness and puts us in the thought of, hey, where are we right now – are we prepared, have we done the proper training? And I think we have.’’
In light of the Santa Clarita tragedy, the Review asked South Pas police what protocols they have in place; how they train for such situations; what the priorities are during active-shooter scenarios; and what advice they give to people who might find themselves in the line of fire.
Here’s what we were told:
How do South Pas officers train?
According to Bartl, officers regularly take part in multi-agency training seminars with other area police forces and first responders, most recently about three weeks ago at the Disney facilities in Placerita Canyon, which offer realistic settings.
“There’s so many moving parts in something like that,’’ Bartl said. “It’s amazing how the training has changed from Columbine (in 1999) to now with active shooters, where before it was sit outside and wait, get the SWAT team, set up a perimeter – no more. Now, you may be going in by yourself, you may be going in with just two of you, but you are to go in immediately and go after that threat to prevent the loss of life.’’
First-on-scene officers will even bypass fallen victims, going for the shooter first, Bartl said.
Another evolution since Columbine, Bartl said, is that, “Once that threat is stopped, we also now have been trained medically to stop bleeding. We carry bags on us now … with tourniquets, chest seals, gauze, bandages. We’ve come so far in that area as police officers in providing medical attention to injuries where (in the past it was), ‘Paramedics are on their way, I’m sorry.’ Now we can actually be on the scene first and provide medical attention.’’
How do police try to prevent such situations?
One key tool officers use is monitoring social media for possible threats, Bartl said.
“We have officers here that monitor Instagram, Facebook, stuff like that, so we are involved in social media,’’ Bartl said. “Our detectives also go through things like that.
There’s also a School Resources Officer — Det. Arthur Burgos — who makes regular tours of all the city’s schools, primarily the high school and middle school.
“(He) is constantly listening to conversations around the schools, talking to teachers,’’ Bartl said.
Do police offer training to civilians?
Ironically, just last Wednesday night, mere hours before the Santa Clarita shootings, Sgt. Matthew Ronnie gave one of his regular seminars, this time at a South Pas church, advising people on how to act if they find themselves as potential targets of an active shooter.
South Pas police have also held similar demonstrations at local schools, most recently around eight months ago at the high school, according to Burgos.
“I’m sure I’m going to get a request to do (another) presentation,’’ Burgos said. “It’s kind of a trickle-down effect. Unfortunately, when these school shootings happen, I get more phone calls.’’
What advice do police have for people to protect themselves?
According to Burgos, there are three courses of action, in descending order of priority: “Run, hide and fight.’’
“Run to the nearest exit, get off the campus if you can,’’ Burgos said. “If you can’t hide inside a classroom, barricade yourself. ’Cause there have been studies, with locked doors, there has never been an active shooter that went in a locked door.’’
Burgos recommends watching a video, produced by the Sheriff’s Department, that breaks it down this way – again in descending order of priority:
1) “Get out.” And if you can’t get out …
2) “Secure your location. Lock or barricade the doors, turn off the lights, move away from any windows and silence your cell phone.” And if that’s not an option …
3) “Defend yourself: Almost anything can be turned into an improvised weapon (Bartl pointed to fire extinguishers, even staplers). Look for something that can disrupt the shooter’s ability to see, breath or control their weapon.’’
The video can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DFQ-oxhdFjE
And for more information go to: http://lasd.org/active-shooting.html
What can parents do?
“You have to sit down with your kids and talk about the importance of being aware of what’s around you, what are your surroundings, what kids look suspicious, what kids are talking about certain things. … They’ve got to be a voice for us as well,’’ Bartl said.
“Hey, parents, be parents — give your kids some guidance and direction.’’