MIAMI COUNTY — Miami County Sheriff Dave Duchak addressed local law enforcement’s role inside and outside school districts last week in light of a recent school shooting in Florida and local threats.
Duchak reviewed how law enforcement assesses each threat reported to his office and shared how the office has fielded questions from local superintendents about school safety issues, including information on how districts could possibly add armed staff on campus.
SCHOOL THREAT ASSESSMENT
Law enforcement officials follow a threat assessment system, which is based on the information provided by school officials, parents and other notifications.
Duchak said its threat assessment team is comprised of a school resource officer, a detective, school officials and school counselors. Depending on the nature of the threat, mental health professionals from the Tri-County Mental Health or other agencies also may be involved.
The team works together to identify the source and break down the nature of the threat, which varies on the message itself, he said. The team will then interview the subject and family members and determine if the subject has the capability to carry out the threat — including access to firearms in the home or by other means, according to Duchak.
“The sheriff’s office takes very seriously any type of threat, either direct or indirect, via social media or other means. We will have zero tolerance for it and it will be thoroughly investigated,” Duchak said. “If we have probable cause, we will charge that person or persons accordingly.”
Duchak warns those who post false threats to get out of school will also be charged.
“This is something very serious that can impact their future,” Duchak said. “These are very serious charges and we will have a zero tolerance, and if we can prove it, they will be charged and so they are potentially putting their future at risk.”
Juvenile records are part of adult criminal records and are reviewed in adult court proceedings.
“The schools and law enforcement take every single one seriously and investigates them thoroughly. They are investigated and assessed and then we take appropriate action,” he said.
If the threat is found to be not credible, deputies will still be on campus to increase visibility and for security purposes.
Communication to parents — usually through mass phone message delivery systems like One Call Now — depends on the nature of the threat. Once law enforcement and school officials have gathered pertinent, verified information, then they will move forward to inform the public.
“The safety of the children is the priority and there are times we just need time to investigate through it,” he said. “All of our actions are to keep the kids safe and to protect them.”
LAW ENFORCEMENT PRESENCE ON SCHOOL CAMPUS
The Miami County Sheriff’s Office has full-time School Resource Officers at Newton Local Schools, Upper Valley Career Center, and part-time at Milton-Union schools. Miami East and Bradford school districts have hired off-duty officers through the sheriff’s office association who are paid hourly.
Road deputies are also required to make one “public relations” stop at the school districts within their beat daily, call load permitting, Duchak said. The initiative began under the late Sheriff Charles Cox’s leadership following the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in December 2012.
“We encourage deputies to stop in the office to say hello, stop in and say hello to the kids during lunchtime, to try and keep a law enforcement presence as much as well can,” he said.
Duchak said in the last year, two local school districts have met with him and his staff to obtain more information about armed school staff in Miami County.
“This is my take on it: I am supportive whatever that district and that community wants to do. If that district or community wants to have certain teachers armed, we will partner with them and we will work with them. We will offer free training. We will do whatever we can to help them be successful,” he said. “If a district chooses they don’t want to go that route, we will partner with them and make their campus as safe as we can.”
Duchak said it is a district and community decision to allow armed staff in their schools. Insurance, in-service training and other variables also would have to be addressed, Duchak said, in the event any local schools were to consider arming staff within the schools.
“I feel it is a district and community decision. I don’t think it should be one person, the sheriff or chief, dictating that. I think it needs to be the community within their school districts and we’ll be right there with them.”
Duchak said if a school shooting would happen in Miami County, not only would the sheriff’s office respond, but law enforcement from around the county would be on the scene.
Duchak said the office has trained with schools using “flash bangs” and other training tools to mimic active shooting scenarios over the years.
Last week, Sidney City Schools made national news on FOX News for its armed staff program, along with its armed school resource officer program, which began after the Sandy Hook Elementary incident. Hardin-Houston Local Schools has trained staff members as well as weapons in bio-safeboxes inside their schools.
Duchak said if Miami County schools should move forward, staff will receive intense law enforcement training and qualifications. He said he and his staff are willing to meet with board members and staff to answer any questions in the future.
“We are happy to offer any type of training for schools and we will work with them close in doing that,” he said.